Junior Ashanti Ilek walked to the front of a crowd and approached the microphone.
She went on to recite an original poem, “Brown Skin.” Originally from Guam, Ilek explored what having brown skin means to her, and how it has empowered her through her piece.
As the first participant in Spoken Word Night, part of SPU’s first-ever Culture Week, Ilek demonstrated the three themes of the week: identity, understanding and celebration.
On Thursday, May 11, community members packed the half of Upper Gwinn used for the event, making it a cozy, intimate experience with dimmed lights.
Philip Jacobs, a 2008 alum better known for his stage name, “Sharp Skills,” emceed the evening’s festivities.
“This is what tonight’s all about — coming together and sharing our stories,” Jacobs said.
Senior Bilen Yitbarek, VPCA and sports writer for the Falcon, was the visionary behind the event.
Culture Week is something that Yitbarek had wanted to do since being elected to ASSP Officer Core last spring.
“Culture is something that we definitely don’t talk about here at SPU, and its weird because if our motto is ‘engage the culture, change the world,’ why don’t we engage the culture?” Yikbarek asked.
Yitbarek emphasized personal experience and powerful storytelling as the best way to share a culture.
“It was really important to have a spoken word night so people could come up and talk about whatever issues they have deep within their hearts,” Yitbarek said.
Sophomore Ethiopia Epherem performed “Pride of the Motherland,” a spoken word about her Ethiopian roots. This was only Epherem’s second time doing spoken word.
“I did it at church and then here at SPU,” Epherem said. “It felt empowering; people were listening to me, my voice was being heard, and I had good feedback. It makes me want to keep doing it.”
Senior Sarah Rasmussen performed “Dear Bathroom Door,” an ode to the ominous presence of public bathrooms.
In their piece, Rasmussen explained the fear they experience as nonbinary using public restrooms, an experience cisgender people do not understand.
“Dear Bathroom Door” highlighted that everyone should have the right to feel comfortable while using the restroom.
Senior Mavin Wilkes performed his original piece “Ambiguous,” explaining that he comes from a mixed background.
“All my life I have been asked ‘what’ I am,” Wilkes said. “I am ambiguous.”
Senior Melissa Del Rio performed “What is Normal?” — a question often asked in disability culture.
Del Rio informed the audience of invisible disabilities and how the term “normal” means something different for disability culture than for able-bodied culture.
“Normal is knowing if a place is accessible or not,” Del Rio said.
Del Rio said that sharing one’s journey through being a witness and storyteller can have a big impact in the lives of others.
Jacobs thanked the performers for sharing “the hard stuff.”
Cultures were shared, difficulties were related to, and Yitbarek hopes that the audience took away how we are much more alike than we think.
“I really hope that people know that we are so different, but sometimes the issues that we go through are kind of the same,” Yitbarek said. “I really hope that people saw someone that they resonate with.”