Waukegan Park District hosts virtual poetry slam in special honor of Black History Month

Stephen Kelley

With celebrations of Black History Month underway all over the country, Waukegan Park District took part in hosting a communal celebration of its own: a virtual poetry slam.

On February 5, community members and students gathered virtually to share iconic and unsung poetry and express verbal art of their own.

Event Poster

Event Poster

College of Lake County alum Maria Contreras organized and hosted the virtual event, alternating between featuring prominent Black poets and their works and allowing guest speakers to take the floor with their creations and favorites.

While guest speakers were allowed to share their poems with a serious audience without risk of judgment or criticism, the event was also an opportunity for listeners to learn about several notable Black poets’ lives and works. 

Among the featured poets were famous thinkers like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, and Jericho Brown. 

Between excerpts and recorded readings from these individuals, local poets would read their original poems as well.

Featured historical works varied in scope and topic, including a range of themes from empowering poems like Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” to the powerfully philosophical “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden.

With the security of a judgment-free open mic setup, teachers, students, and other community members in the Waukegan area shared works on such topics as encouragement for people of color and difficult feelings brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professional Magician and native Waukeganite Scott Piner joined as a guest speaker, sharing his enthusiasm for poetry and a piece from one of his favorite Black poets.

The event may have been held online, but the Virtual Poetry Slam was still an occasion for honoring Black poets of our past and listening to our present and future poets’ thoughts and feelings.