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Slam poets examine issues of race and religion

Christie Bolsen | Friday, January 28, 2005

The vast majority of Notre Dame students don’t know what it’s like to be wrongfully arrested, or how it feels to face the world as a Jew or skinhead.It’s not that easy to get an inside look into a world with so many differences from what’s familiar. But at the Race and Religion Symposium, students may get a chance to see a world very different from the one they know uncovered. Three spoken word artists will bring their experiences and backgrounds to a politically charged night of poetry and engaging dialogue.The event appropriately falls between the last week’s focus groups that opened discussion on issues like homosexuality and the upcoming diversity awareness week. Several events also are scheduled around the symposium, including Thursday night’s Acousticafe, which featured performances by Notre Dame’s own student slam poets Jelani McEwen-Torrence, Dennis Latimore and Grant Osborn.Bryonn Bain, a Harvard law student, became a national focus of racial discussion when he was handcuffed and thrown in jail for a night by the NYPD when he and his friends were leaving a nightclub in New York. Bain wrote an essay called “The Bill of Rights for Black Men” after the incident that became a cover story for Harvard Law’s Village Voice.Ted Koppel, Chris Matthews, Johnnie Cochran and Oprah Winfrey all discussed the racially charged incident and Mike Wallace also interviewed Bain on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Bain, who placed second in the International Poetry Slam, will speak about keeping your goals in sight despite barriers and a future of equality.Jason Carney, the second performer, is a former skinhead who was sent to a juvenile detention center as a young man because of his violence stemming from gay and racial intolerance. After rooming at the center with a gay male who was HIV positive, his views changed. When Carney discovered after his release from the center that his friend had died from AIDS, he made it his mission to eliminate the intolerance he once harbored. He now uses his art to reform and heal, and has performed on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO.Kevin Coval, the third performer, is a poet, emcee, essayist, activist and educator who has performed around the world in countries including South Africa and India. His range of experience includes opening for Ani Difranco and also appearing on Def Poetry Jam. Coval also works toward contributing to the youth writing community in Chicago, where he teaches workshops for Young Chicago Authors, the Guild Complex and the University of Hip-Hop.His art takes a critical look at the current cultural and political environment, and also explores his Jewish identity. His hip-hop lyrics deal with the impact of whiteness on people of color as well.Tatiana Nealon, Student Union Board cultural arts programmer, attended a conference in Kentucky in October where she saw Jason Carney perform to a standing ovation, and was struck by his powerful effect on the audience. She hopes the conference will build up interfaith awareness on campus, as well as spark discussion on the important issue of race. “By bringing in a Jewish person to talk about his experiences, it can help people realize what it’s like for someone of a different religion to grow up in a predominantly Christian nation,” Nealon said. Workshops run by the visiting poets, such as the one on Social Entrepreneurship from 5 to 6 p.m. in the McNeil Room today, will give students a chance to further explore issues. The Race and Religion Symposium will take place Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the LaFortune Ballroom. The symposium will be followed by a question-and-answer session.