Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month? Look no further than the African Cultural Club's poetry slam this weekend.

The African Cultural Club (ACC) began in November 2017 at the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR), organizing Black History celebrations, ethics workshops, and its most popular event -- the Black History Month poetry slam, organized by poet Amarachi Orakwue.

The slam, in its third year, calls back to an oral tradition that is unique to African-American history, according to Orakwue.

“Poetry is a means by which we can take ownership of our narratives to express our joys and pains of being Black in America,” she said.

This year, the slam is virtual -- held over Zoom, with 11 or 12 poets on the docket and likely more to come. Though Orakwue makes a point of reaching out to the Rochester STEM Academy and RCTC, it is open to the entire community.

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Every open mic segment pulls in contributors from the audience, Orakwue said.

“We know at times, people will feel inspired during the event and then feel bold enough to get up and present,” she said.

Many of the poets will discuss their experiences of being Black -- the joy and empowerment, but also changes that are needed moving forward, paying homage to past movements.

“Some people have a call to action,” Orakwue said. “Some people will talk about what America should do to improve and advance the lives of Black and brown people.”

Christine Chukwuocha (contributed photo)
Christine Chukwuocha (contributed photo)

Part of the reason for the Black Poetry Slam is to celebrate together, ACC president Christine Chukwuocha said.

Angie Kwabo, who began the club in 2017, felt there wasn’t a place on campus for African students to come together and embrace their culture, as well as educate others. UMR needed a group to bring students from African countries together, Chukwuocha said.

Chukwuocha, a senior at UMR, has been in charge of the club since 2018. She said ACC meetings start with ice-breakers like stories about growing up in African households (“We’re getting to see where we come from and also where we are similar”), then move to discussions of current events in various African countries.

Learning about sociopolitical movement in various areas of Africa helps connect African students to their homes -- and educates those who never lived any African countries about the differences from country to country, and city to city.

As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

“We need to widen the story of Africa,” Chukwuocha said. “Give that dimension to Africa as a whole -- it’s not one huge cultural mass.”

If You Go

What: Black History Month Poetry Slam

When: 5-6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20

Where: Virtual: Zoom Meeting ID 979 5741 5518

Password 4ckREC

Cost: Free