As part of the Division of Student Affairs’ initiative for Diversity and Inclusion, we at I Am Rutgers have started the #RUIDProject to highlight the many diverse identities, experiences, and reflections of the Rutgers student body. Students featured in this project share how they choose to identify themselves and how Rutgers either helps them express their identity or has helped shape their identity. If you would like to be featured in this project, share a picture of yourself and how you choose to identify using the hashtag #RUIDProject on Instagram or contact us via email.
Photography by Pat Nadolski
Every week on campus I get to go to church. This church is held in a classroom, it starts promptly at 9pm each and every Wednesday. There is no choir, there are no deacons, only a multitude of pastors, each armored with sermons in the form of poems.
I found this church freshman year and I have been faithful ever since. So faithful that, like the most ardent disciple, I will go out of my way to make sure that you get there too.
Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective is where I have been able to create a home and meet an extended family within that home. Each week we roar with laughter, we cry together, we recite, we sing, we perform, and we encourage. Every Wednesday night a new soul steps on our stage and tells an audience of over 100 students that they have never done anything like this prior to that very moment and before their sentence is halfway finished they are met with an immediate surge of applause. We do that because it is not the performance as much as the decision to share their art with us that we appreciate and honor. After that initial decision, everything else is water under the bridge; you are now family. No questions asked.
It was in this environment that an 18-year-old black boy from north Jersey with a love for words, performance, and community was able to flourish in the oasis that is Rutgers University–New Brunswick.
Now, a month from my 22nd birthday, Verbal Mayhem has come to shape much of who I am today in terms of my perspective, my patience, my path, my personality, and my poetry. The people who frequent room 210 of Murray Hall on Wednesday evenings have seen my frustration, my passion for societal and systemic justice, my drive to both teach and be taught, my dry humor, my heartache, my tears, my rage, but mostly my joy. A joy that is primarily propelled by the other artists who fill the room with an atmosphere of creativity that is built upon every week. A joy that comes from realizing that my own words could be used as a tool to inspire and enhearten the same way that other poets were able to inspire me. A joy that comes from hearing a line that forces me out of my seat and plants me on my feet in a storm of applause and cheers. A joy, that comes from the common understanding that words are far from inane or banal, but rather they are the most powerful instruments humankind has been blessed with.
Rutgers has allowed me to discover this world and has created a platform for this world to exist before I even got here. But Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective has instilled in me the notion that there would be no Rutgers University without me, without all of us; past, present, and future inhabitants of this space. We, not as students, but as individuals all have an aspect of our being that can be cultivated and nourished to a point of self-actualization. With this self-actualization, we can thereby distribute life to others who need our light to help them discover their own. It is with this understanding of self and one’s own potential that we can deter the forces that aim to diminish our self-worth, not just as individuals but as a human community.