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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

“A Night in Harlem” brings power, resilience and excellence

The opening remarks note a night of celebration of the Harlem Renaissance. Photo credit: Rachael Bayuk

A dimly lit room is filled with excitement before the poets and soul-bearers take the stage. The string lights twinkle and cast spells of light on the lone stool on The Hub’s stage.

The night’s MC, Chico State alum Walter Torrence III, takes the stage. His charisma immediately soothes the room. He welcomes everyone to the poetry slam and lays out the schedule for the night.

Before the poetry begins, Professor of Dr. Vernon Andrews gives a brief history of the Harlem Renaissance. He has even dressed the part, wearing a sharp outfit of slacks, button shirt with vest and tie, nice oxfords and a long (faux) fur coat. Andrews explains that the Harlem Renaissance gave the city a place where black communities could dress and express themselves with flamboyant wears for the first time in America.

After the heartfelt history lesson and a display of Andrews’ many newspaper stories published in Chico, the poetry slam begins. More than a dozen distinct voices and views were given on stage. A recurring theme of the night was a call to not believe the lies of white supremacy.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Lesa Johnson gave an account of her time growing up. She was frequently stopped and asked to recite the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. She urged the new generation to learn this song in its entirety and to hold it with them, as it was their history to learn.

Through her talk, Johnson offered three calls to action:

1.) To always believe in yourself. To know that you are perfect just the way you are. “For black people don’t believe the lie. White supremacy will always try to tell you that you are culturally and intellectually inferior, and that is a lie.” Johnson said.

2.) Get involved and get engaged. The more people students interact with and feel a sense of belonging with, they better they do.

3.) For allies to get real about whether or not they are truly allies. “If you are gonna be an ally, be an ally. Stop playing around. Actually be the ally that you say you are going to be. Support black liberation, support equity to access for resources of black students. Otherwise sit down.” Johnson said.

Of her talk on the stage, Johnson said, “These were the values I was raised with. To always be proud of being black and to know that I was excellent no matter what happened. There was always someone there to tell me not to believe that stories that I was worthless.” Johnson said, “That is what the black community is for. To lift each other up even when white supremacy tells us we are nothing.”

Adding, “We are beautiful, we are beautiful just the way we are. It’s my goal to remind black students and black people in general what an amazing people we are. Because we tend to forget.”

Many poets touched on blackness being a fad, all while it’s not being accepted on black people themselves. White supremacy and police violence were just a few of the other many important topics brought up.

Another brave stage claimer, Mia Cadet, used her time in front of the mic to share a poem that expressed her anger with many things going on in the news at the time.

“As I thought about my little brother growing up (being) a black male, it was really frustrating to think about him being ripped away from me someday,” Cadet said. “Or even my life being taken.” She went on to explain the poem being about ancestral pains, knowing that her ancestors bore this burden before and feeling it was now it was her turn to, as well.

She wanted to remind black people to take care of themselves, saying that they can often internalize the anger from what they see on the news. Cadet suggested finding ways to use those feelings to motivate and not let those feelings overcome.

This event brought a multicultural crowd together to listen to the real stories and struggles of the black American experience.

While you may have missed this phenomenal poetry slam, there are still other events to attend. There are more opportunities to be part of the Chico State campus Black History Month celebrations. All events can be found at

There are multiple on-campus and in-community organizations and resources for black students. The office of Diversity and Inclusion’s page on the Chico State website offers a list of most of these organizations and other resources.

Rachael Bayuk can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BayukRachael.

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