Their work centers on special topics that really face this new-age poet. When it comes to poetry, you have some folks that think poetry is supposed to be the Edgar Allan Poes of the world, and people aren’t making new things,” said Johnson. “I was connected with various contributors and an editor of their book, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, and knew as they are getting the word out about that book, they’re also traveling and doing workshops for schools.”

Betts and Colon, who are both based in Chicago, each read some of their own work, while exhorting the assembled crowd to praise the aspiring poets at the open mic—not that the IU students in attendance needed any encouragement at the high-energy gathering.

“The event was so full of culture and unity, and I haven't seen a Neal Marshall event with that many students from Black IU in a while,” said Arriel Vinson, a senior journalism major from Indianapolis. “It was refreshing, and I was also happy that they brought a group of black poets to IU because it's rare that we get to see that.”

 The poetry slam was preceded by an afternoon “Uncovering and Healing” poetry workshop with the aforementioned theme at the NMBCC’s Bridgewaters Lounge. Betts and Colon led the workshop, having participants read and analyze poems such as June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights,” as well as creating and sharing their own work.

“The workshop was amazing and our guests did a great job. The first poem we wrote was about a moment where someone violated our space or didn’t seek our approval before doing something. In my poem, I specifically talked about my natural hair and how people often touch it without asking—and even if you ask, I’m not a dog,” said Tiffany Campbell, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the school psychology program in the School of Education. “Other people talked about more intimate and personal things aligned with the theme of people not respecting space."

“People shared different narratives and stories about things they’ve experienced as individuals on this campus, in their lives, and throughout their journey. It was just an enlightening experience to see what different walks of life that different people came from. Then, we wrote a poem about something that we wished we share with someone—something about our story that we didn’t share with somebody, whether it’s ourselves, our parents, someone who hurt us. You learned a lot about each person, and it felt like a very safe space and a family. It was just a great workshop, overall,” continued the Queens, N.Y. native.

“Some of my research and studies are about black girls in schools, their narratives, empowering their voices, and knowing that their stories matter. It’s their journey being heard and feeling supported, that their story matters and there’s somebody who cares about them and wishes them nothing but support and love.”

The event was so full of culture and unity, and I haven't seen a Neal Marshall event with that many students from Black IU in a while.

Arriel Vinson, a senior journalism major from Indianapolis

Johnson was also pleased with the workshop, and the students’ response to it.

“It went really well. I was glad to see that we had a good mix, as far as gender was concerned, of students who were coming to read works from different places and also write their pieces, and talk about their own experiences,” she said. “I think that it was very cathartic to a lot of students, to really write out what exists under the currents of who they are that they don’t traditionally talk about.”

Funding for the events came from by the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), Rape Prevention and Education. The grant is administered through the Office of Women’s Health at the ISDH from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control and is provided by sexual assault primary prevention funds. Indiana University is one recipient of the grant, in addition to two other agencies in the state of Indiana: Multicultural Efforts to End Sexual Assault (MESA) and the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV).

“The grant has provided us with opportunities to provide training for multidisciplinary professions through the state and for staff at all of our Indiana University campuses, engage student leaders in prevention efforts, provide bystander intervention workshops with students, and work with underrepresented students,” said Leslie Fasone, IU assistant dean of women’s and gender affairs within the Division of Student Affairs.

“One of these efforts is to provide primary prevention efforts to African American students at IU. We have a coalition of colleagues who care deeply about this issue that we have been working with to help guide and inform our efforts. Our aim for this event was to provide a safe space for students to talk about their experiences and challenge unhealthy gender norms and expectations regarding relationships and sexuality.”

Given the success of the events, Johnson was quick to reply when asked if the NMBCC plans to repeat them in the future.

“Of course,” she said. And hopefully as we keep doing this and the trust builds within the community, we’ll get more and more folks who are willing to come, participate, and write on this topic that is definitely part of your vulnerability. You have to open yourself up for this.”