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Say The Word: A Spoken Word Celebration
Posted on: 05/01/2021
Founded in 1999, Los Angeles Southwest College's (LASC) English and Foreign Languages Department "Say The Word" open mic celebrates scholarship and student achievements, recognizes success in literacy, and reaches out to the local community to position LASC as a community center for engagement with current events, social issues, activism, scholarship, and literary arts.
The "Say The Word" open mic competition for rap, poetry and art took place this Spring Semester on Wednesday, April 28, on Zoom. The competition—founded by LASC English instructors Jay Adler, author of Waiting for Word, and Niki Billingslea, author of Supple Verse & Mood Candy for the Sunken Place, is now in its 22nd year.
Past guest speakers have included: “The Unofficial Poet Laureate of Los Angeles” Wanda Coleman; internationally-acclaimed spoken word artist Taalam Acey; poet and co-founder of the Watts Prophets and author of Difficultez Technical, Father Amde Hamilton; two-time national poetry slam winner Matt Sedillo, author of Mowing Leaves of Grass; acclaimed poet David Romero; Da Poetry Lounge Host Shihan Van Clief; Executive Director of the Community Literature Initiative and author of PHOTOETRY: Poetry and Photography from South LA, Hiram Sims; poet and historian Mike “The Poet” Sonksen, author of I Am Alive in Los Angeles! and Letters to My City; Chiwan Choi, founder of Writ Large Press and author of The Yellow House; and Michael Datcher, a scholar and the author of the critically-acclaimed New York Times Bestseller Raising Fences, among others.
The purpose of the series has been to bring the community to the campus, and then bring the campus to the community by exposing students to the many different forms of writing, performance, spoken word, and self-expression. Prior years’ events offered students a safe-space public forum to perform alongside featured guest speakers and to self-actualize their own transition from personal writing as personalized self-expression to public writing as politicized social criticism—a model for students’ social engagement, civic responsibility, politicization, and inspiration to write, speak, and express themselves—with a purpose.
Librecht Baker, one of the MCs for this year’s event and author of ventiver, confirms this: “Say The Word is my favorite LASC event. It creates space for our students to come together, speak out, vocalize a part of their journey’s story, and be self-empowered through words. When they speak out, they are celebrated, uplifted, and cheered by their peers, the LASC campus, and our community members. Sometimes, at Say The Word, people will spit a poem, sing or rap an original piece, read their essay, or talk their story. Regardless of what they share, they are acknowledged and supported. Our students deserve to be supported. They are Say The Word! Without our students, we would not have Say the Word, and I hope they know they are valuable and they’re LASC’s history.”
As an entry point for students to try their hand at public writing, speaking and self-expression after having been exposed to—and hopefully inspired by—both professional and student authors, "Say The Word" provides validation of the students’ experiences, language, and writing as worthy of recognition and inclusion in the college classroom, on a college campus, and in the community and world. This is an experience so often not a part of a traditional academic classroom alone, which can often alienate students who discover the challenge to find out where they fit in is too great.
But the students are inevitably the stars. No matter who the featured celebrity guest speaker is, the open mic portion of the event is where the students have always shined: they infallibly show their openness, honesty, vulnerability, resilience, integrity, individuality, emotions, beauty, strength, creativity, and imperfect perfection. People sing songs, read poetry, do spoken word, perform dramatic monologues, sing along to karaoke tracks, and everything creative that you can imagine. It’s truly the most unregulated and open of open mics.
Therefore, in recent years, the event has tended to centralize the student experience, foregoing the featured guest speaker segments and foregrounding student and faculty performances. This past year, the event was held virtually for the first time due to the pandemic and attracted its largest-ever audience, with participants from as far away as Germany. The importance of the event to students cannot be understated: it’s a beautiful expression of creativity.
According to long-time “Say The Word” supporter, LASC English Professor Darren Cifarelli, “After teaching for many years, I’ve come to see that, in education, what goes on outside the classroom is as important—if not more important—than what happens inside the classroom. As far as seeing students grow and transform themselves or see themselves evolve from students into artists or scholars or performers, that always seems to happen on field trips, in student club meetings, while working one-on-one with tutors or faculty, during theatrical performances, in public debates, at sporting events, in public forums, and at events like Say The Word. The classroom work lays the foundation for change, but the performance and experience of real change happens outside.”
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