Café Mahogany gives students a platform for expression
Café Mahogany, an event that gave students a chance to express themselves at Grand Valley State University, drew a sizable crowd Friday night. Put on by the Black Student Union, the event featured poets, performers, dancers and a comedian.
While students performed, the night also welcomed back alumnus Britteney “Black Rose” Kapri along with Michigan-based poets Nate Marshall and Ben Alfaro, who both performed in the HBO documentary Brave New Voices. The event brought together predominantly minority students in an all-inclusive environment of expression.
The packed venue was set up to look like a café, with tables facing the stage and a dimly lit room allowing for complete immersion into the pieces that were performed.
Themes of the pieces ranged from love to hip hop to racism. “People deal with a lot of issues they don’t speak about,” said Kovi Sigh, secretary of the Black Student Union. “(Café Mahogany) gives them a sense that you don’t have to say anything. Just know that you’re not alone.”
Students performed songs that the whole crowd knew, such as “Slow Motion” by the artist Karina. One subject that was referenced in several works was the case of Trayvon Martin and the recent pictures that have surfaced on the Internet of people imitating the now-deceased Martin with their Halloween costumes.
“It hurts me to see black men criminalized for the color of their skin,” said Jasmine Broadnax, who performed her poem to acclaim from the audience. “(I was happy) that everyone enjoyed my poem. It was emotional, too. I (saw) so many black men in the audience, and I know so many black men in my life, and it amazes me the way the media portrays it.”
Interspersed among the student performers were three featured poets, who were gathered by Kapri after she was contacted by the BSU’s president to return to the event.
“Café Mahogany is like home to me,” Kapri said. “It was one of my favorite experiences at GVSU. I’m really excited to have that experience again.”
The poets performed poems they had just written as well as poems they had written in response to recent events. Topics covered Detroit, Justin Bieber, family and sexuality.
Alfaro, a graduate of Wayne State University, presented poems from a book he co-wrote with a friend called “Home Court.” “The book expands upon themes of Hispanic and Latino ancestry, about sports, our relationship with sports, and culture that young men are a part of,” he said.
Marshall, a Chicago native, is a poet and rapper who, as some attendees said, “kept it real” and was “uncensored.”
“I think a lot of my stuff is really influenced by hip-hop in terms of themes that tend to come up,” he said. “A lot of the themes are often thinking of having to do with violence, masculinity and community.”
Overall, the event gave attendees a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s stories.
“One thing about (Café Mahogany) is that it is telling your story through artistic forms,” said Cecil Johnson, president of BSU. “You come and relate to people who first look like you. Being African American, there are not many of us here. This is a way for other cultures to get a look into what (minorities) face in a predominantly white institution.”
Attendees could tweet with the hashtag #CafeMahogany13 to comment on the show as the night went on, so those interested can search for viewers’ opinions on Twitter.