Social work class gives voice to social justice poets

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Poet who goes by Germ performs at Poetic Justice on Nov. 19, 2015 in Cramer Hall. Aleck Woogmaster/PSU Vanguard

Members of the Portland hip hop and poetry communities recently teamed up with students from Portland State for an evening of performance poetry and social justice dialogue.

Students Amanda Ferrat, Mary Smith and Kami Brack from Professor Michael Hulshof-Schmidt’s Social Justice in Social Work course collaborated with Benson Polytechnic High School coach, mentor and poet John Slaughter and Way 2 Hott Productions, to bring Poetic Justice, a social justice-themed poetry reading and open mic, to PSU. Poets took the stage in Cramer Hall, room 53, on Nov. 19.

Ferrat, Smith and Brack said they are pursuing master of social work degrees at PSU. They are all currently enrolled in Social Work 539: Social Justice in Social Work with Hulshof-Schmidt. Ferrat said she invited event host Slaughter and his Poetic Justice brand to the campus after they met at an event promoting Portland Hip-Hop Day earlier this year. While Professor Hulshof-Schmidt was not in attendance, Ferrat, Smith and Brack said they organized the event as part of a “Stop Oppression” assignment they received in class.

“The purpose of us bringing Poetic Justice here to PSU was to give a voice to those who want to vocalize about social justice topics such as racism, oppression, those kinds of things,” Ferrat said. “And just open it up to have an audience to hear those voices.”

Poetic Justice featured an open mic portion to start the night out. Aspiring performers got on the list by introducing themselves—and talking to—the host, John Slaughter, who explained this to the crowd of approximately 50 people by simply stating, “I am the list. If you want to spit, talk to me.”

The crowd, as well as the list of performers and poets, was a mix of PSU students and members of the broader Portland community. This allowed for an intense open mic portion of the evening, where students spoke to a wide range of human rights issues.

“The open mic was on fire; we opened it up to a lot of people who came; it was a social justice-themed event and the poets did speak to that,” Ferrat said.

Trhona Johnson, a junior social work student at PSU, spoke to future generations in a poem depicting a letter to her unborn children of mixed heritage.

“I refuse to let you both fight against each other, so in this family we fight for each other,” Johnson said on stage. “Mommy will fight by your side 24/7, because our lives matter.”

Slaughter himself commented throughout the night that the open mic portion featured a distinctly strong element that set the evening apart from other Poetic Justice events. First-timers and featured performers reflected the sentiment, saying there was a distinct energy in the air during their performances.

“Number one, there’s a lot more, I’d say educated students here,” Slaughter said. “There’s a lot more (of) a general vibe here at PSU than at other Poetic Justices. It’s also…a lot more people who are socially ready to hear some good poetry and some messages that need to be heard.”

Poets spoke—and sang—about issues pertaining to race, police violence, education and much more.

Poet Landra Glover sang a soulful refrain as she repeated, “Let’s change the world,” before launching into a piece entitled “No Child Left Behind.” In doing so, she summarized the overall message of the night, a message which promoted a conscious dialogue with a better future in mind.

Poetic Justice contained a wide array of representation, including students from PSU and other nearby institutions, members of the #BlackLivesMatter community, the Portland Hip-Hop community and much more.

A poet named Beyond summed this sentiment up best when he delivered one of the final poems of the night, proclaiming art, education and dialogue to be human rights when he said, “It’s for everyone.”

Slaughter said that he intends to bring Poetic Justice back to PSU as soon as possible.

“It’s a good environment, love it,” Slaughter said. “We’ll be back here at PSU.”

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