La Causa Hosts 17th Annual Voices for the Voiceless
Issue   |   Tue, 12/09/2014 - 23:09

Several hundred people gathered in the Powerhouse on Saturday, Dec. 6 for La Causa’s 17th annual Voices for the Voiceless spoken word event, New England’s largest spoken word concert.

Nationally recognized speakers such as Slam Champions, White House Champions of Change awardees, HBO Def Poetry speakers and Sonia Sanchez, the college’s own first female African American professor, were among the list of seven performers at the concert.

Voices was organized by the students of the Voices Committee, led by co-chairs Ana Ascencio ’17 and Lucas Rénique-Poole ’15. The event, which was emceed by Francheska Santos ’15, included seven poets and music performed by DJ Dru Classic.
Jacquie Chavez ’15, a co-chair of La Causa, opened by explaining the event’s purpose and calling for a moment of silence to honor recent and past victims of police brutality.

“Voices originally began with Latino poets but has expanded to include different ethnic groups and demographics,” Chavez said. “The purpose is to connect social justice with the arts and for Latinos to create powerful voices for themselves in society.”

Speakers spoke on the theme “decolonizing the arts at Amherst College,” and several reflected on the idea of discovering identity through art.

The first poet on stage was 2014 National Poetry Slam champion Pages Matam.

Matam performed his new piece “The Etymology of African American,” which touched on subjects such as naming and the meaning of identity in the context of culture.

Matam was followed by Simply Kat, an HBO Def Poet and co-founder of the spoken word organization Say Word.

Simply Kat’s performance focused on how words and dreaming are signifcant to children. Using Dr. Seuss as an example, Simply Kat discussed how 43 publishers denied Dr. Seuss before one took Seuss seriously.

In the piece “Dear Fellow White People,” Simply Kat spoke about privilege in America and her identity as an Irish American. She also spoke about perceptions of female beauty in American society, challenging the airbrushed ideals presented in magazines.

Next, Elizabeth Acevedo, another National Slam Poetry champion, reflected on the difficulty of defining her own cultural space in society.

In the piece “Hair,” Acevedo used the metaphor of her naturally curly dark hair to describe her stand against cultural shaming and assimilation.

Acevedo said that her mother used to justify straightening her hair by saying, “Privilege looks like this, and I want you to have access to privilege.”

At the end of her piece, in response to her mother, Acevedo said, “You can’t fix what was never broken.”

Sunni Patterson, a featured performer in premier spoken word venues and celebrated poet, spoke on the beauty of free speech and activism.

“There is beauty in this tradition of resilience, hope, and joy,” Patterson said. “I’m giving thanks that we can be a part of this kind of activist, this kind of movement, this kind of ... I’m grateful to be a part of this kind.”

She also performed a poem on the suffering caused by injustice. “I recall written in his speech, Dr. King made us aware, that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” Patterson said.

After a brief intermission, the event resumed with Samoan poet Terisa Siagatonu. Siagatonu is a Champion of Change, a White House honor given to leaders who help immigrants become citizens. She shared her experiences as both a Samoan and queer woman.

“Decolonization is dear to my heart,” Siagatonu said. “Decolonization means a journey towards sovereignty from a people who had everything taken away from them.”

Siagatonu shared her personal experience of survival against the different types of oppression she has faced as a Samoan, queer and woman. She remarked that spoken word was like allowing the audience to peek in through the windows of her life.

The audience then greeted Brian “SuperB” Oliva, a slam poetry coach at Azusa Pacific University. Oliva’s performance focused on the Wright brothers and on the importance of overcoming adversity.

Finally, poet Sonia Sanchez, the first African American female professor at Amherst, spoke to close the event.

Sanchez urged the audience to be involved in initiating social change at the college. She spoke on her participation in the college’s decision to become coed and her involvement in developing a black studies major.

“You need to make the board members understand that this is not going to hold us as long as it has before,” Sanchez said on creating social change at the college.

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