Feature Stories Campus Events

Poetry Night Kicks Off Black History Month at W&L A student-led annual celebration of black literary culture opened the Student Association for Black Unity’s programming for Black History Month at Washington and Lee University.

BPN_Christian-800x533 Poetry Night Kicks Off Black History Month at W&LZach Christian ’20 reads a poem during Black Poetry Night, an event hosted by SABU for Black History Month.

On Monday night, about 30 students, faculty and staff gathered in the living room in Elrod Commons at Washington and Lee University for Black Poetry Night, a student-led annual celebration of black literary culture to kick off Black History Month. Leia Barrow ’22, vice president of the Student Association for Black Unity (SABU), opened the evening by talking about black history as a living process of creation.

“History is always going on,” Barrow said afterward. “There are stories that need to be told. It’s not just what happened in the 1960s.”

The atmosphere was intimate. The living room — a comfortable fireplace lounge through which students often pass on their way to and from meals — offered a safe opportunity to be vulnerable and a public place to share stories. Six students read original works from phones and notebooks, filling the room with their voices on subjects from the long, unrolling trauma of surviving a drive-by shooting to religion as an anchor to identity and hope. Other students, faculty and administrators shared favorite works by poets as diverse as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Crystal Valentine.

BPN_2-800x533 Poetry Night Kicks Off Black History Month at W&LAmber Morrison ’23 reads for Black Poetry Night. She shared an original poem titled “Dear White People” before reading “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.

Enuma Anekwe-Desince ’22 read her poem “Credo,” which she workshopped in an introductory poetry course with Thomas H. Broadus, Jr. Professor of English Deborah Miranda. Afterward, she said, “Open mic nights, cyphers and the act of poetry itself have long been staples in the black community. Seeing Black Poetry Night become such an inclusive celebration at W&L means that we’re making room for ourselves and that, in return, they’re making room for us.”

For Barrow, who remembers spontaneously sharing a poem as a first-year after realizing how welcoming the audience was, poetry night is an ideal way to begin Black History Month.

“It’s something people look forward to. It’s a game changer because you get to tell the story, and you know people are listening. People like you are there to comfort you and encourage you, and they understand where you’re coming from.”

BPN_joelle-800x533 Poetry Night Kicks Off Black History Month at W&LJoëlle Simeu ’20 shares a poem for Black Poetry Night in the Elrod Commons living room.

Upcoming Black History Month Events

The Student Association for Black Unity is also hosting the following events at W&L for Black History Month 2020:

Feb. 10: Voter Registration Drive, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Elrod Commons Living Room; 5 to 6 p.m. on the Leyburn Library main floor

Feb. 19: Panel discussion on the Central Park Five and criminal justice with Assistant Professor of Law Brandon Hasbrouck and Associate Dean of Students Tammi Simpson, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater