I had the pleasure of attending the White House poetry jam on Tuesday night, and am still smiling. The event officially titled “An evening of poetry, music, and the spoken word”, brought together a diverse group of performers from all parts of the country for an intimate gathering filled with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, piano, bass, hip-hop and Shakespeare. From James Earl Jones to two young college slam champions, the performances were young, fresh, and surprisingly cultural. Many of the artists’ pieces celebrated their backgrounds, their ancestors, their unique life experiences, and the role that culture and identity have had in shaping them.
The next morning as I scoured through the news coverage of the event, I looked, hoping that one of the dozen or so stories would highlight the most important element of the evening. No luck. I found details of the performances, the food, the location, the attire, but the one most defining, perhaps indescribable element of the evening that few news outlets have covered was the atmosphere. The White House felt like home. A house more gilded and historical and bejeweled than any I have ever lived in, but a comforting, welcoming, beautiful, and kinetic, home just the same. And it was a home that felt like many neighborhoods in urban America – diverse, loud, filled with laughter and love.
As I walked through security a woman in front of me was pulling out her ID and said, “I’m so nervous!”. The security guard smiled and said “Why? This is the people’s house. Your house.”. I knew right then and there that this was going to be an experience unlike any other. And the event did not disappoint.
To sit in a room full of artists spitting fierce lines to people with afros dancing next to people speaking Spanish next to a group of hearing impaired guests excitedly signing to one another next to Angie Martinez waving at the first daughters next to Spike Lee and his lovely wife sitting at the same candlelit table as Joe and Jill Biden while Saul Williams and Hill Harper chatted with George Stephanopolis was a dream – live and in many, many, colors.
As the event drew to a close and I waited for my high heeled feet to stop throbbing before I began the walk home, I took a rest in the East Room and sat on an ornate bench near a friendly older woman with a thick Spanish accent. She was the mother of one of the spoken word performers. She turned to me, shaking her head and smiling from ear to ear, and said very simply: “My daughter in the White House. Who would have thought?” I looked around at the sea of young black and brown faces and said back to her “Certainly not me.” And I’m so lucky to have been a part of it.
Here are some photos I took: