“This one is for all the black people in the room,” spoken word poet Ariana Brown says from behind her microphone. She looks down at the floor, takes a breath and begins. Quiet snaps fill the room when members of the audience hears lines that resonate with them.
Brown’s poetry reading occurred last Thursday at 6 p.m. in Pfahler auditorium. The room was packed with students and faculty who came out eager to hear the two time Academy of American Poets prize winner and the 2014 collegiate national poetry slam champion perform her work.
Originally from San Antonio Texas, Brown’s poetry focuses on her Black Mexican American identity. In one of her poems from the reading, she critiqued colonialism with the line, “they know nothing of holding the earth without the impulse to own,” and in another she asked the question, “in what version of the story do black women win?”
Throughout the night, she bounced effortlessly from serious poems about race and identity in America to poems about thrift shops, family, and an ode to public transportation that any UC student who’s ever tried to take SEPTA to Philly would relate to. Between poems she joked with the audience, asking “what do y’all do for fun here?” and laughing when the entire room grumbled “Reimert” and “alcohol.”
Senior Zonia Rueda found Brown’s reading and references to Afro Latinx artists to be one of the most appealing aspects of her work.
“My favorite part of the read- ing was when she read the poem about her favorite artist Ozuna. I love how she talked about how this Afro-Latino artist was making great music especially in the reggaeton genre,” Rueda said. “I loved how she one day wanted someone to post the reading of this poem on social media where Ozuna can hear it and perhaps meet him. I found it interesting that it was not just a poem of loving an artist but how Ozuna is one the best reggaetoneros in music industry as one of the only Afro-Latino artists.”
Rueda is also president of ALMA, one of the campus student groups that helped support the event. Dr. Teresa Ko, who organized the event, is a professor of Spanish at Ursinus and coordinates the Latin American Studies minor. She created the poetry night program as part of the Inclusive Community Grant “Strengthening the Latino/a/x Community of Ursinus,” which she worked on with Dr. Xochitl Shuru, Rueda, and Stephanie Guzman the president of L.A.X., a Latinx student organization on campus. Other departments that helped support Brown’s reading were the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies minor, the African American and Africana Studies minor, the Latin American Studies minor, the Modern Languages Department, the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department, and Ursinus’ Arts and Lectures Grants.
Ko believes Brown’s reading fits into the goals of her inclusive community grant project nicely.
“I think Ariana Brown’s poetry night fits really nicely to our goals to strengthen the Latino/a/x community of Ursinus. Of course, one event won’t do it but I thought poetry that connects us all was a great place to start. I felt that her performance helped the members of the Latinx community feel connected to each other but also to strengthen our ties and solidarities with others. Many, many people stayed after the poetry reading to
hug and talk to each other, get autographed books from Ariana Brown, and take selfies,” she said.
Rueda shared why ALMA wanted to support the event.
“ALMA wanted to be part of this because we thought that her poetry was amazing. We thought that she would really captivate the audience and could identify with all Latinos and Afro-Latinos, Rueda said. “We wanted the Ursinus community to learn more about what it means to be Afro Latino and that there are so many subcategories within the Latino/Hispanic community. We wanted to do this with a performance such as poetry because it draws people in.”
Many people at the reading were moved by Brown’s words. Ko noted in particular the powerful effect that her poems had on students.
“I thought it was cathartic, powerful and magical. Many
of us commented how we were fighting back tears and laugh- ing at the same time,” she said. “As I was driving Ariana back to the hotel, I asked her how she felt about traveling to so many places. She said she ‘needed’ to because they reenergized her. She said she was leaving especially energized because the audience at Ursinus had been ‘with her,’ participating and responding. I would say, likewise, her visit energized and reenergized our students.”