Poets, singers celebrate female empowerment

Nashville sophomore Braxtyn McKinnie performs “Bright” by Kehlani during Woman’s Appreciation Night on Monday March 30 in DSU.

Emma Austin

Blue lights lit the stage in DSU Nite Class on Thursday night, illuminating performers speaking and singing about female empowerment.

WKU Campus Activities Board hosted “This is for the Women: Women’s Appreciation Day at WKU” to celebrate Women’s History Month, which ended on Friday.

Ciara Futrell, concert committee chair of CAB, said she organized the event to take a day to appreciate women’s efforts and contributions to the world.

“I feel like women are always in competition, you know, we’re always striving to be better than men, to be better than the next woman,” Futrell said. “I want to make sure we had a day where women come together and celebrate each other.”

The night opened with WKU women performing songs including Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” and “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney movie “Moana” soundtrack.

Student Elicia Tillis performed a poem she put together by combining lyrics from Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” and 90’s rap song “Black Girl Lost” by Nas. Tillis said she broke down the lyrics to what she thought the songs were trying to say based on what the lyrics meant to her.

“It’s pretty much a reflection of self and looking back at what I needed to work on within me to become who I’m actually supposed to be,” Tillis said.

Tillis said during her life she’s had people get on her for being different. She participated in Miss Omega pageant last year to build her self-esteem, but she still felt like people were trying to fit her into a particular mold.

“I thought about society and being a black woman in society, how people look at me and say I’m supposed to be this, I’m supposed to be that — just because I’m a black woman,” she said. “But when it comes down to it, the issues that we’re fighting, it’s because of what society [says].”

Award-winning slam poets Olivia Gatwood and Janae Johnson finished off the evening, performing their work and covering a broad range of topics on their experiences with womanhood and empowerment.

“I do this thing where I write odes to things I think I’m supposed to feel ashamed of,” Gatwood said before performing her first piece. “An ode is a praise poem. Shame is an interesting thing because we’re told we’re supposed to feel it, but it’s not an organic feeling. It’s something someone tells us we need to feel.”

Gatwood’s first piece was an “Ode to My Bitch Face.”“For those of you that don’t know, a ‘resting bitch face’ is a phrase coined by someone who was just generally unhappy with the fact that women aren’t smiling literally all the time,” Gatwood said. “I got told that a lot growing up, and still do, and started feeling ashamed of it.”

“Resting bitch face, they call you,” she recited. “But there’s nothing restful about you.”

In her performance, Johnson told a story of the time she got into a fight in sixth grade with a white girl who called her the n-word and how she hadn’t understood why her mother hadn’t been proud of the blood on her hands. She spoke about “the nuance of being queer and black” and her “thirst for justice.”

Johnson also performed her poem called “Black Girl Magic,” which she said was based on a skit from the television show “In Living Color” written from the perspective of a black stage mother whose daughter who gets rejected from every audition.

“So when they tell Magic ‘no’ for the fourth time, I tell her that she can eat all the pork chops she wants, but she bests not cry over no white man tongue. There are better things to die over,” Johnson narrated.

After their performances, Gatwood and Johnson said they hope people left feeling empowered.

“I hope people reflect the intersections within their own identities and kind of start to outline that, because it just helps the learning and growing process a little bit more,” Johnson said. “I feel like I wish that I heard this maybe 10, 15 years ago. Probably would make me a better person.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at (270) 745-0655 and [email protected].