An ordinary conference room in Fromm Hall took on the vibe of a hip, jazzy cafe as friends, new and old, came together for Expressions open mic night.
USF students arrived en masse, along with friends and family. Even a group of San Francisco State students bussed in from across town. Guests mingled, piling up plates with fresh berries, ice cream and eclairs as they talked excitedly.
The room was packed with guests, nearly completely filling three rows of seats and many large tables in the back. The crowd hushed as sophomore Abesha Shiferaw welcomed everyone and announced the first act. Experssions had begun.
Expressions is a semi-annual open mic night put on by the Black Student Union. Abeshaw explained it as, “A chance for everybody to come and express themselves.” The expression took various forms, from soft poetry, to dramatic spoken word, to melodic singing, to skillful guitar.
One by one, the performers took the stage and displayed a spectrum of human emotions. Each brave participant bared a bit of his or her soul to the audience. Topics ranged from the lighthearted (love, relationships) to the more serious (domestic violence, death) to the thought-provoking (race, gender).
Each act performed, each a delightful surprise from the one before it. Junior Saidah Jones popped loudly onto the scene with her shocking and raw poem about gang violence, drug abuse, AIDS, and overcoming obstacles. “I know where I’m going, I’m going straight to the top,” she read from her ultimately inspiring piece.
Sophomore Evelyn Obamos showcased her vocal and guitar skills, performing two original songs. The first was a sweet and breezy love song; the second, a reggae tune about the relationship between love and sex. “This is my first attempt at a reggae song,” she explained. “I hope you like it.” The crowd bobbed their heads with approval.
Jasmine Williams, an SF State student, performed a heart-wrenching spoken word about domestic violence. The poem was written from the perspective of a child convincing her mother to leave her father. “He loves you, he loves you not,” was a central theme of the poem, comparing the insecurity and uncertainty of a domestic violence victim to the wistful wondering of a little girl. At the end, she said to the father, “I want my words to blacken your eyes.”
Perhaps the most poignant act of the evening was a poem by senior Courtney Ball. Though it began simply, speaking of Thanksgiving and the true meaning behind it, the audience soon learned that the reason Thanksgiving is important to Ball is because it is around that time that her mother passed away a few years ago. Ball dedicated the poem to her sister, who was in the audience. There was hardly a dry-eye in the room.
After each expression, Shiferaw nodded and said, “That was dope,” and encouraged additional rounds of applause for the performers. The participants ranged from seasoned performers to first-timers convinced by their friends to step up. Many admitted nervousness, but seemed happy to have expressed themselves by the time they were done. “Why were you nervous?” Shiferaw would ask. “If I had your voice, I’d be singing all the time.”
The BSU welcomed performers and spectators of all ethnic backgrounds. Shiferaw, who is a member of BSU and also a poet, explained, “There aren’t a lot of places people can feel free to express themselves. This is an open space to come perform. There’s no judgement.”
No judgement indeed. There was a small baby in the audience who would cry after each applause, apparently upset by the loud noise. Rather than become annoyed, one member of the audience shouted, “Express yourself!” And that they did.