A black man, a Jew and a former white supremacist are on stage, microphones in hand, and they have stories to tell.
Bryonn Bain, Kevin Coval and Jason Carney told them to the about 100 students who packed into Phyllis P. Marshall Center basement Tuesday night. The event was called “Critical Minded” and featured Slam Poetry, the kind made popular by shows like HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.
With cutting words and a hold-nothing-back mentality, the trio touched on a lot, from racism to hometowns and from Israel to embarrassing adolescent experiences.
Coval opened the show with a poem about his hometown of Chicago.
“We talk about peace, but we only seem to be talking,” he said.In his next poem, he recalled an incident from his high school days about a big date gone wrong. Under the moon, inspired by the “cricket soul clap” he decided to seal the deal by rapping all three verses from LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.”
“It didn’t go right,” he said.
Coval, a Jew, later read a poem blasting Isreal for being a “pawn of America.”
“When will you stop killing yourself, Isreal?” he said.
Later, Coval performed the event’s biggest crowd-pleaser: a fiery poem he wrote about Mel Gibson after the Passion of the Christ was released.
No one line the entire night drew more laughs than: “Hitler applauded the play your movie is based on … Go back to England and f— all the cousins and goats your brave heart desires.”
Carney, a former skinhead from Texas who admitted to gay bashing and racial intolerance, read his poems with quickness and emotion. Carney, who said he regularly attends church, told a joke that shows how much he has changed.
“Here’s my impression of a conservative white Christian meeting Jesus for the first time: ‘Oh my God, you’re black!”
His second poem addressed his racist past – and how he believes things haven’t changed.
“Lynch mobs?” he said. “They aren’t dead. It’s the justice system now.”
Carney performed arguably the night’s most emotional poem, which he wrote about his friend Patrick, a gay man with AIDS who he roomed with while at a detention center. Carney said Patrick helped change his life.
“God reached down and touched a gay man on the shoulder and told him, “Hey, you need to help him,” Carney said.
Bain, a Harvard Law graduate, was the most rhythmic performer. His first poem was a fiery criticism of George W. Bush.
“Kanye said it best on CNN … Condoleeza Rice must be your only black friend,” he said.
Bain also told the story about the time he was wrongfully arrested in New York City and jailed. He wrote a cover story about the experience for the Village Voice that drew more than 90,000 responses.
After each poet performed five times, they sat on stage together to answer questions from students. And the three – all from totally different backgrounds – had the same message for the students: Do what you love.
“All I ever wanted to be was a poet,” Carney said. “I’ve seen some (messed) up places in and I’ve done some really (messed) up things in my life. But I was willing to pay the cost and the sacrifice to get to where I sit now.”
Added Bain, “I spent a lot of time in college wondering what I was going to do … Nobody ever told me to think about who I’m going to be. That’s a lot more important.”