The lights in the Cherokee Park Ballroom shut off at 7 p.m., the only one left on being from a projection screen in the center of the room. A hush fell over the crowd and the only voice heard was that of Bruce George, co-creator of Def Poetry Jam.
â€œPoems have been and always will be the strength of the people,â€ said George, the lights now returning to a dim glow.
â€œAmerican critics try to stifle poetry,â€ George said, â€œrevolutionary poetry.â€
Initially influenced by Muslim ideology he became familiar with in his 20s, George put himself on a â€œfocused path,â€ choosing politics as his focal point. George says poems are revolutionary in nature because poems are â€œthe voice of the people,â€ a voice you are either for or against.
Extending his views to black history, George provided examples of what he defined as â€œinstitutional racismâ€ in fields other than poetry. He said prominent male actors such as Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry have â€œdegradedâ€ themselves by dressing up as women, and no one seems to care.
George spoke of the â€œdemeaningâ€ roles in which black actors have won Academy Awards: Denzel Washington playing a crooked cop in â€œTraining Day,â€ â€œHattie McDanielâ€ being a maid and Forest Whitaker portraying a dictator in â€œThe Last King of Scotlandâ€.
He referenced the movie â€œThe Pursuit of Happiness,â€ a film in which Will Smith played the role of a man that went from being poor to a success on Wall Street and the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia winning an Academy Award for a song titled â€œItâ€™s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.â€
â€œThey won Oscars for portraying stereotypes and not for the more positive roles,â€ George said. â€œThereâ€™s something wrong with that picture.â€
The room went silent.
â€œHe made me think of everything that goes on in the world,â€ said freshman journalism major Emily Dutson. â€œHis point is to get people to see into everything with a much deeper meaning. I had not thought about the things he said until now.â€
When George finally spoke again, his voice became louder over his microphone. His voice continued to rise and his hands moved demonstratively with each word he spoke as he gestured toward the audience, tying his presentation back to politics and changing the cultural norms.
â€œMy poetry is socially and politically based,â€ George said. â€œItâ€™s rooted in fostering change. I feel that it starts with America becoming more politically astute.â€
Georgeâ€™s message was simple: You donâ€™t have to follow the status quo. You donâ€™t have to accept what the â€œdominant society tells you is right and wrong.â€
â€œAgitate, agitate, agitate,â€ George said, quoting the Rastafarian figure Marcus Garvey. Agitation, he said, inspires change.
After his impassioned hour and a half long speech, he asked the crowd whether they expected his words to be mislabeled as â€œconspiracy theory.â€
â€œI liked how direct he was,â€ said Jaleesa McIntosh, president of Black Definition, the group responsible for bringing George to campus. â€œHe held nothing back and was hard-hitting in the information he presented.â€
After the comments, George went back to the podium to deliver the final words of his speech, words he urged this generation of writers to heed in order to create the change he feels is necessary in America.
â€œAt all costs, do not maintain neutrality. Challenge authority. I want people to see the truth.â€
Staff writer Joe E. Goings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.