Students Tell Stories That Matter at Center4ME Event

Nationally-renowned spoken word artist Lo Alaman took a breath, straightened his baseball cap and stepped up to the microphone. The crowd leaned forward in silent anticipation, and every eye carefully watched the starkly lit stage.

He launched into a piece called “The Morning Poem,” which touched on pain, loss and finding joy through Christ. Alaman then began a call-and-response setup, encouraging the audience to actively participate throughout the pieces.

This set the tone for an evening of storytelling through poetry, stories and music during the Stories That Matter spoken word event at the Center for Multicultural Enrichment (Center4ME).

The event, a joint collaboration between the Center4ME and the Forensic Speech Team, was held April 6 at the Center4ME space in the Montview Student Union. The line to get in to the event streamed out the door, with an estimated 150 people in attendance, according to Denise Thomas, Forensic Speech Team coordinator.

The theme was Stories That Matter, where students both on and off the Forensics team were invited to share stories and spoken word pieces in a late-night event.

“(It’s about) making a platform for people to come and share,” Allen Ancheril, associate director of campus relations at the Center4ME, said. “I think the title kind of does say it all: Stories That Matter. If it matters to somebody, give them a venue for everybody to hear.”

Rebekah Sharpe, a junior English major and three-year participant on the Forensics team, was one of the originators of the idea for Stories That Matter. Sharpe got the idea from a diversity workshop at a college campus the Forensics team visited during a competition. Stories That Matter was an attempt to promote diversity and encourage students to embrace creativity.

“God himself is the most amazing and incredibly talented artist, and if we’re made in his image we were made to create art,” Sharpe said.

Students from different years, backgrounds and public-speaking experiences shared their various artistic pieces, most of which were original works. Alaman, the emcee for the evening, picked names randomly from two hats to determine which participant went next: the yellow hat was for mostly traditional stories, while the blue hat held spoken word and pieces Alaman titled “new stuff.”

Aside from eliciting interest in the Forensics team and the Center4ME, Thomas wants to inspire students to share their work more freely. Thomas said she hopes that speaking at this event will spark confidence in the participants and encourage them to speak in public more often.

“Research tells us that the thing Americans fear most is speaking in public, even more than death,” Thomas said. “So even though people love the idea of doing it, putting themselves out there, especially if it’s original material… it’s a very vulnerable position.”

Though the theme was open to interpretation, the pieces generally stuck to heavy topics. Struggles with identity, the pain of loss and coming-of-age were all touched upon through poems, songs, raps and stories.

One student performed a slam poem about the hypocrisy of the church based on her own walk with Christ. The audience snapped in appreciation, echoed powerful phrases and promptly gave her a standing ovation once she stepped back from the microphone.

“We want people to have the opportunity to tell their story, to express their concerns or their joy,” Thomas said. “A lot of times the stories that matter to us are ones that are significant in our culture, or in our own human experience.”

Alaman, who flew to Lynchburg from Columbia, Mississippi especially for this event, kept the night focused on the one story that he said truly matters — Jesus.

“If you’re looking to tell your story, I think he wants your actual story, not the pretty parts of it,” Alaman said. “Your voice is your voice for a reason, so speak how you speak. Don’t try to be anybody else.”

Throughout the night, speaker after speaker proclaimed the name of Christ through personal testimonies or through lessons taught in spoken word format.

Emmanuel Cuffee, a coordinator at the event, said sharing personal stories of Christ’s redemption plants seeds in the lives of everyone who hears them. The Liberty student also participated in the event, with a spoken word piece titled “Regular Guy,” where he talked about image and the power of Christ. Cuffee said he wrote his piece based on his own experiences, and he hopes that his words influenced someone at the event.

“If you could just connect with one thing, it could change your life forever, and that’s the power of our testimony,” Cuffee said. “That’s how powerful it is.”

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