Vincent M. Franco
Mwende “Free Quency” Katwiwa shared poetry portraying the plight of Black people in America as a part of the Campus Activities Board Black History Month celebration Monday via Zoom.
Katwiwa read poetry to an audience of 28 who attended virtually. The program included three of their own poems and one by Zoe Leonard called “I Want A President”, to which Katwiwa wrote a poem in response.
Katwiwa’s poems displayed emotional responses to the political turmoil in the U.S. and what it felt like to be a Black American living through these turbulent times.
In their first poem “American Amnesia,” written shortly after former President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Katwiwa tackles the claim that then and there was the beginning of America’s wane.
They argued that this specific inauguration was not the beginning, but only a result of this country’s long systematic affliction towards its minorities. In other words, it is easy to see what is coming, when you know what has come before.
“It gives students the chance to relate to others and know that it’s not just them that have gone through racism and sexism, it’s more people and they can relate to them,” Shae Arroyo, sophomore biology major, said.
After, Katwiwa read their poem “1-45 have lied, 46 Through 100 Will Be No Different,” which is a response to Leonard’s “I Want A President.” Leonard’s poem was written in 1992 and it was not until 2015 that it finally struck a chord with Katwiwa.
While “I Want A President” explores the idea of having a president who has experienced all walks of life whether it be someone who has had AIDS, has no health insurance, or has had an abortion at a young age like 16. Katwiwa’s poem discussed not wanting a president at all, raising the question: why do we need a president or police in this country to begin with?
“Those people don’t represent us or they don’t look like us or they don’t represent our values, and it’s kind of discouraging,” Melissa Ochoa, senior biology major, said.
Katwiwa’s poems from this program were both impactful and riveting, giving the listener a sense of urgency for social justice.
The last poem in the program was a form of protest for them during the 2020 protest brought about by the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Titled “Lettering Freedom,” this poem was a call to action for more than just the burning of big corporate businesses.
They said they were not frowning upon looting, rioting or burning either. In the last few lines of the poem, Katwiwa wrote about how they will stand strong with their pen in one hand like a small sword and a gas tank in the other.
Katwiwa also read one last poem by request, written early during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown called “The Saloon Between My Mother’s Knees.” In this poem, they talked about missing their mother while being isolated at home and only wanting to lay down with their head on her lap, while she gently scratches their head.
Holding many titles like storyteller, organizer, chaos collagist, and performance artist, Katwiwa got their start in youth work at a young age and still continues to this day.
“As I become more of an adult I truly believe that young people are where the battle for the future is fought,” Katwiwa said.
But as an artist, they said they do not see these readings as a job. They said they leave everything on the table and let the students decide what to do with it.
The impact these few poems had on the students in attendance was clearly visible in the chat and on the faces of those who had their cameras on. Viewers agreed Katwiwa was able to express social unrest through the art of poetry and also encouraged students to stand up for what they believe is right.
“She wanted to not only place importance on Black history but their futures as well and she did that really well though poetry and art,” said Outreach Chair of the Campus Activities Board and organizer of the event Leslie Huerta, a senior computer science major.
Vincent M. Franco can be reached at email@example.com.