I arrived to Rhode Island College and struggled to find close parking at 8 o clock on Saturday November 5th. Eight o clock, two hours earlier than my earliest class, and on a Saturday, bizarre. My first priority was to find the promised free coffee they used to lure me out of the comfortable safe confines of my bed on a Saturday morning. However before I could reach the rumored coffee I was roped into the line for registration at which point I opted for the “Social Justice Activism”, mostly because I saw it included a poetry slam. As someone with respect for poetry, as well as minimal talent as a poet, I thought this would be interesting and thought provoking.
Then, as soon as I finished registering we were instructed to make our way to our respective seminars. So, with a lack of free coffee I made my way across the campus to Alger Hall, room 110. I walked into the large conference room to see it full of round tables, much better than the rows of chairs I had to sit in last time I was in Alger 110. Since I did not see anyone I knew, or anyone looking particularly inviting, I took a seat at an empty table and tried to catch a power nap before the events began.
The first speaker was Marco McWilliams, a graduate from Rhode Island College, started his presentation on African Studies, with a quote by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. “Naiveté is often an excuse for those who exercise power. For those upon whom that power is exercised, naiveté is always a mistake.”
He then requested that we speak with the people at our tables about the meaning of this quote for the next few minutes. Then we, as groups by table, were about to share our ideas with the rest of the participants. The most significant response came from one table who compared this quote to one by Lisa Delpit. “Those with power are frequently least aware of, or least willing to acknowledge its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of it.”
Next he led the audience through a multiple-choice quiz on African American history. We were able to discuss our responses with the others at our table. In the results stage many of us were shocked to find out things we thought of as truths, might not be so truthful after all.
This reminds me of Johnson. Johnson wants us to talk explicitly about issues of privilege, power and difference so we can work towards stopping injustice and promoting respect. I think that Johnson would want us to search until we got to the truthful answers about history rather than believing the version written in textbooks by rich white men.
The next presentation was on poetry as an important form of expressing thoughts and ideas creatively, and powerfully. We heard poems from many teachers as well as their students. Then they gave us five minutes to write a poem based on the prompt “I once was…”. I enjoy poetry, and wrote feverishly for the next five minutes. When it was announced that they needed volunteers to read their poems I raised my hand and was chosen along with four others.
After I was selected, the reality hit me. I was about to stand in front of the room full of people, and present a piece of my own mind to them. I began shaking in my seat, nervous doesn’t begin to cut it. Sure I write plenty of poems, and have read some to close friends, but even that makes me nervous. This was a room full of people. However people reacted well when I read my poem (which unfortunately I lost or I would post it here) and I placed the 2nd highest score at the hands of the peer judges.
The rest of the day was uneventful, although I was able to obtain my free coffee. I explored the booths in the cafeteria, and chatted with other students before we had to make our way over to the Teen Empowerment presentation in the auditorium in Gaige Hall. Watching these students tell their stories and play ice-breaking games on stage felt like being subjected to mandatory high school assemblies all over again.
All in all, the poems were worth getting out of bed that morning, and once I got over the early awakening and drive to campus, I found the Promising Practices Convention to be informative, and the poetry to be quality.