Photos by Pooja Pasupula

In my sophomore year of high school, my teacher decided to show us a video of the spoken word poet Sarah Kay. It was her TED talk, a video I’ve since watched dozens of times. She spoke confidently, with both passion and rhythm. I was in absolute awe. It was a truly magical feeling, one I hadn’t felt since. Until Thursday.

On March 16, the Campus Activities Board sponsored an open mic night hosted by Carlos Andrés Gómez. Gómez is an acclaimed spoken word poet and author of the memoir, “Man Up: Reclaiming Modern Manhood.” He opened the night with a set of his original poems, strung together with personal remarks and humor. Gómez’s uplifting personality was infectious, filling the rotunda of the Student Union in which his poems echoed. He somehow managed to take such a large space and make it intimate, as if those of us watching the poems were the only ones in the room. It was spoken word poetry at it’s finest, and I was hooked.

While Gómez performed multiple sets throughout the night, a couple poems especially stood out. The most notable of these was his poem “What does Hispanic look like?” The poem went viral in 2016 and currently has over one million views on Youtube. It begins with a story of one of Gómez’s personal experiences and then transitions into a moving piece about Hispanic and Latino stereotypes. Other poems I especially enjoyed were “Everything,” a beautiful and creative love poem, and “Handstitch,” an account of the time Gómez held hands with a male friend for an hour as he walked around his college campus.

However, Gómez was not the only one performing. In between his sets, various students chose to perform original poems on the stage. Some were experienced poets. For example, Hilda Kolawole, winner of fall semester’s Last Poet Standing competition, performed pieces about race and feminism. Others were first timers, such as Bestman Eze, whose nervous energy simply made his love poem “My Queen” even sweeter. The poems also touched on a wide variety of topics. Patrice Wilson’s centered on race and the lacking number of black professors on campus. Zeke Peterson’s “Dreamer” told about his urge to escape from his upbringing and achieve his dreams. Jon Lamar’s poem, entitled “Death is a Memory,” spoke about overcoming deep personal struggles.

Of all the times to perform poetry, this was likely one of the best. The crowd was extremely open and supportive. Students cheered poets through any slip-up or misplaced word and clapped as they both entered and exited the stage. Gómez was partly responsible for this, as he encouraged audience members to root for and react to the poets. He also complimented and interacted with both performers and audience members.

Although the event lasted about two hours, I was still sad to see it end. The sense of community felt broken. Still, Gómez stayed behind to speak to and take pictures with audience members and performers, as well as sell copies of his book. I have to applaud the Campus Activities Board for planning the event. If you ever have the chance to attend one of their open mic nights, I highly recommend it. It was a truly moving experience that left me shaken and awed in a way I hadn’t felt since I first saw spoken word. In my book, that’s a success.

Elissa Miller is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for Niner Times. She is a junior at UNC Charlotte studying Communications and Political Science. When she isn't reviewing theater for Niner Times, she is working on bringing sex education to campus through Sex Week UNC Charlotte or forcing her friends to binge watch television with her. In the future, she would like to be an investigative journalist, a lawyer, or the second female President of the United States (because if there isn't one before the time she gets there, that's just sad).