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The Mass Media

Black History Month poetry event makes a grand slam

The logo for “40 Acres and a Slam.” Graphic provided by Didi Delgado.

As a college student, one of the most popular entertainment events to attend is typically concerts. We rarely ever consider going to an event for music’s twin sister, poetry. It arguably has more depth and meaning than most music, but seems to only attract a fraction of the audience.

Being a huge music and concert fan myself, I never even bothered attending any similar events. Why go anywhere else? When I had the opportunity to attend a poetry slam, I hesitated, wondering if it would even be engaging. However, I was quickly proven wrong within minutes of viewing “40 Acres and a Slam,” put on by the nonprofit, 40 Acres and a School, and hosted by Boston’s own DiDi Delgado.

40 Acres and a School, a play on the infamous Civil War order “40 Acres and a Mule” by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, is an organization fighting red-lining, specifically within the farming industry. Organizer DiDi Delgado explains that “this campaign changes the historic redlining of property into literal green: both healing and nutritional plants, with the money earned going directly into the hands of Black folks” (1).

40 Acres and a School pledges to raise $1 million in funds this year to go towards buying land and building this epicenter. It will include a healing space for retreat and ritual, a community farm growing food and healing supplies, and an intergenerational freedom school (2).

This project will be an astronomical help in the fight against racial injustice in the United States by providing resources for justice, regarding cannabis and other issues that have typically resulted in incarceration and oppression for Black communities, as well as funding and housing for Black leaders, visionaries and freedom fighters.

“40 Acres and a Slam” was hosted as a fundraiser on Saturday night, via Facebook Live due to rising COVID-19 cases, but still managed to leave all viewers speechless. Delgado created a safe and welcoming environment for Black poets to share their stories, without fear of backlash. Poets Chevon Guthrie, Maya McNeil, Parker, Jeanine Nunes, Christy David and Emeka Ude competed in three rounds with one elimination per round.

Each poet had three minutes to perform their poems and, in the final round, the top three poets were chosen and awarded prizes accordingly. Judges Amanda Shea, Katherine Valenzuela Parsons, AJ Cameron, BossMiss and Denice Frohman scored each poem on a ten-point scale. In a poetry slam, scores are not only given based on the content of the poem, but also on the tone, pacing and quality of the performance.

The event began with a poem by D Ruff, a local spoken word poet and creative director of Pulse Poetry Network, titled “If You Can Feel It, You Can Speak It,” as an exemplar of how the night would proceed. From that, Delgado and fellow host Nandi K introduced each performer before their recitation. Each poet showcased their poems in a different light, but they all circled around the central theme of Black History Month.

Chevon Guthrie left the audience awe-struck after his final two poems resulted in a series of 9.9s and tens. He told his struggle of mental health, homelessness and being a Black man in America.

He ended his second poem by saying: “boy you not Beethoven, / you music. /  Not Michelangelo, / you are the picture. / You are not Shakespeare, / but you are poetry. / You are all the art that comes with finding all the pride within yourself. / You are the best at whatever you are. /  Even on the days when all that is, is alive,” and with his signature “mic drop” of turning off his camera. Guthrie earned first place at the end of the night with an average of 9.6.

Second place went to Jeanine Nunes, with her highest scoring poem earning a 9.4 and describing what it is like to drown everyday in life. Nunes wove her words into vivid descriptions of life and love as a Black woman, earning praise from the thousand viewers watching her from their computer screen.

Her poem read, “You do not need an open body of water to drown, / but what happens when this intersection of blood and bones / did not become equipped with any snorkels or fins / and drowning has become the only skill you have managed to inherit?”

Maya McNeil received a well-deserved third place when she described her experience as a Black girl going to an all white, private high school, and as a teenage girl in America. Maya’s powerful messages and young age brought a series of comments emphasizing her point and congratulating her for realizing this at such a young age.

Her leading score being a 9.3 for calling out our modern country stated: “The society we live in is dejected. / Why because I am a female, I have to watch what I wear because of a male? /  Why is my clothing piece being sexualized to my body? / Why because you are a Black male, you are known to be a criminal? / Why when the white stormed the capitol, they didn’t get any sort of harm, /  but if it was the Black community we would be looked as rascals? / […] We are more than that.”

Every poet did a phenomenal job with their words and their performances. I am so honored that I could attend and watch these amazing poets show off their message. If you have not yet attended a poetry slam, I highly encourage you to look into events in your area through a local library or bookstore.

To learn more about this event and to donate, visit thedididelgado.com/40acresslam. If you would like to view “40 Acres and a Slam,” go to facebook.com/thedididelgado/past_hosted_events.

  1. thedididelgado.com/press-kit

  2. thedididelgado.com/40acres

About the Contributor
Rena Weafer, Arts Editor