by Patheresa Wells
Over Labor Day weekend, artists of all ages gathered at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute for the 3rd Annual Verbal Oasis Spoken Word Festival. The event combined performances by artists of color with an open mic and included two days of programming focused on developing children’s creativity.
Held Sept. 1–3, each day and night offered a unique chance for the community to explore the craft of storytelling through various mediums. The Muezz Infuezzion Poetry Show started off each evening with a pre-show writing session where the featured poet provided a prompt, allowing the audience to express themselves through writing.
The festival highlighted numerous local spoken-word artists. Imani Sims and Ben Yisrael both took to the stage as featured artists over the weekend. The festival also spotlighted Sadiqua Iman, Aishe Keita, Melany Bell, Garfield Hillson, Chelsey Richardson, and Rajnii Eddins.
Festival founder Monique Franklin (Verbal Oasis) hosted, asking the community to invent and imagine together during live painting, dance performances, and Black joy activities. In addition to the writing session and open mic, the festival highlighted multiple mediums to infuse the occasion with artistic muses. A live band with Brittany Davis (keys), Darry Wilmore (bass), and Chris Patin (drums) played during jam sessions and accompanied the featured poets during their performances.
Friday night featured Individual World Poetry Slam finalist and songstress Rio Chanae. Chanae invited attendees to write about something they cannot quit. Following the session was an open mic that provided an opportunity to share work created that night or previously.
Despite being a singer and songwriter, Chanae said performing spoken word with a band she had not rehearsed with was a new experience. “I’m excited for that kind of fresh, inspired collaboration. … There will be a point in time when I call up one of the other performers who’s a dancer, and she’s gonna do an interpretive dance to one of the pieces,” she added.
Halisi Ali Eli, aka Tha Wizdom Wordsmith, shared her poem “They Call Me Copper Skin.” Eli said she wrote the poem about feeling unappreciated and unvalued as a mother. “I wanted to provoke some thought about how they say in the news [that] Lucy, found in Africa, is the mother of civilization. But what does that mean? We admire these bones, but then we see real flesh and bones walking around, those same bones that they found in Africa, and there’s no value for me in the world.” Eli decided to attend the event because she said she wanted to get back into her craft of writing and meet some new artists.
The Inspired Child Children’s Open Mic also incorporated live music on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Brood Awakening, a duo of youth performers consisting of Donovon Lewis on drums and Xavier Colón on keyboard, played jazz music, including original music written by Colón. The two carry on the musical traditions of their parents, drummer D’Vonne Lewis and saxophonist Cliff Colón, respectively.
While the duo has played instruments most of their lives, only in the past year did they form the band. Donovon Lewis said the best part of the experience is combining their friendship with making new music. When asked how he felt performing at an event focused on inspiring children to use their creative skills, he said, “I felt good. Some of my friends and family came, and it felt good to show my talent.”
Lewis and Colón’s infectious melodies had the crowd clapping and dancing along. Their enthusiasm encouraged families and children in attendance to engage in the uplifting power of music.
The children’s events also combined multiple mediums to provide a safe place for exploration. During Sunday’s event, Melany Bell facilitated a storytelling workshop with assistance from the audience and provided the prompts for the children’s open mic. There were also stations throughout the space where kids could immerse in play with musical instruments, costumes, coloring, and more.
A tap performance by Northwest Tap Connection instructor Cipher Goings brought an additional layer of expression. After sharing his footwork, Goings led the crowd in learning a tap routine as both young and old got up to see how fast their feet could move.
The Verbal Oasis Spoken Word Festival brought numerous artists, community organizations, and partners together. Joy Sparks, aka The Black Book Fairy, was present with her business, Hella Black Books, which promotes literacy in the Black and Brown communities by bringing images to children and families that reflect and mirror who we are. Other partners for the festival included Seattle Filmmakers of the African Diaspora, Abstract Media, African-American Writers’ Alliance, iNfinitely Well, Joyful Practices, and Kinara Park Kids.
The festival was a truly collaborative event that offered something for everyone in attendance — giving performers of color with all levels of experience an opportunity behind the microphone to enjoy the self-expression that comes through spoken word.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With around 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn’t have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference.
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!