On the last Friday of every month the Fox Coffee House hosts The Definitive Soapbox, an open mic/poetry slam. This Friday was the seventh anniversary show for the soapbox, and it was an epic evening. I would estimate that there were well over 100 people packed into the Fox, and the joint was buzzing with excitement well before the start of the show at 7 pm. Host Antonio PAZ1 Appling gave a little introduction and explained the format for the evening. There was full slate of performers signed up, and so each was limited to just one piece. The open mic segment would run from 7-9, and then from 9-9:30 there would be two featured acts, one a musical group and the second a performance by an established poet. That is the standard format for the event, and on this night the musical act was the duo The Black Noise (@blcknoise), and the poet was San Diego poet Rudy Francisco.
Most of the performances for the evening were spoken word, and there were a few musical acts as well. Most notable in the latter category was a young man from San Diego (and I apologize for not taking notes so I could adequately credit the participants) who did a beautiful acapella rendering of an original composition, and 11 year old Bethany. Bethany has been coming to TDS since its inception with her dad Jeff, and this was her first time on the mic; she did a song that she had written herself and accompanied herself on the ukulele. She was not the youngest participant, though, as host Antonio read a poem that had been composed by six year old Rowan, another up-and-comer in the soapbox world.
There were some incredibly powerful spoken word pieces, most dealing with very serious topics, including battles against depression, dealing with one’s own suicidal impulses or the suicides of friends and relatives, or grappling with gender identity. The mission statement of the TDS says that “We started our open mic SEVEN years ago with a goal of creating community and engaging hope around poetry in Long Beach”, and I they have done a wonderful job of doing that. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and mutual support in the room that provided a safe and embracing environment for all comers.
The strongest and most emotionally gripping pieces were those touching on matters relevant to the Black Lives Matter movement, and those voices were raised by both black and white individuals. I have friends and family members who seem somehow offended or threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement, as if it diminishes them in some way or as if the African-American community is making much ado about nothing. I would like very much for those folks to have the opportunity to visit events like this and see first-hand the testimony of those who are living under the shadow of the ugly racism that has always permeated our society and seems to be raising its ugly head even higher now. Let them hear black women mourning the loss of their black brothers and expressing the fear that they feel every time their sons venture out into the world. Let them hear the crippling anxiety felt by young black men when that police car slows as it approaches them and the relief they feel if that car passes them by without stopping.
At promptly 9 pm the show moved into the featured artist segment, and first up was the duo The Black Noise, consisting of Victor Ujagudhele on guitar and vocals and Donovan Brown on vocals. They played an outstanding set, combining the spare instrumentation provided by Victor’s virtuoso guitar work with the rhythmic vocals of both member. They too are in a period of recovery as back in August all of their equipment was stolen. They have a GoFundMe page that is currently active and accepting donations so they can afford to replace their gear, and anyone who is inclined to help out can donate at The Black Noise Recovery page.
Last, but certainly not least, was San Diego based poet Rudy Francisco. On his web page I see that “As an artist, Rudy Francisco combines activism and poetry to enlighten the minds of those who witness his performance. Rudy eloquently absorbs the experiences of those around him, synthesizes them and converts their stories into poetry. Furthermore, Rudy has made conscious efforts to cultivate young poets and expose the youth to the genre of Spoken Word Poetry…” Rudy performed several pieces, and my favorite was his last, his “Honest” poem, which once again provided a portrait of what it is like to be a young black man in an often hostile environment.