Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    The Root Slam hands mic to Oakland poets

    The sign for MLK Restaurant & Full Bar shines outside while a night of open mic and slam poetry begins inside. Photo by Nicole Lovett

    One year of homegrown literary culture

    By Nicole Lovett

    The Root Slam has hosted numerous writing workshops in its first year. 
    It has exposed thousands of people to local poetry, and sent an all-women-of-color team to represent Oakland at the 2017 National Poetry Slam, placing fifth in the nation out of 80 teams.

    “There’s something uniquely powerful about transformative moments for adults,” said Natasha Huey, an organizer for The Root Slam, which hosts free open mics and workshops in Oakland for adults ages 18 and older.

    The Root Slam’s open mic is held every second and fourth Friday at 7:30 p.m. at MLK Cafe, an East African and American restaurant located at 3860 Martin Luther King, Jr., Way.

    The organizers describe it as a poetry slam in an East African sports bar with burgers, breakfast, and East African food, up the street from the birthplace of the Black Panthers.

    “That’s pretty Oakland,” said the poetry slam’s organizers in a group email.
    The organizers host free writing workshops from 10–11:30 a.m. every first and third Saturday at Oakland community center Chapter 510, located at 2301 Telegraph Ave.

    Poet Tianna Bratcher performs at Root Slam, a local literary organization in Oakland, during the competitive slam portion of the Friday night open mic at MLK Cafe. Photo by Nicole Lovett

    There are two portions of The Root Slam’s Friday nights: the open mic, and the competitive slam.

    Kimberly Banks is a counselor from the Central Valley who drove two hours to perform at the open mic.

    At first, Banks expressed nerves about performing, but she relaxed after she finished.

    “It honestly felt like home. I will definitely come back,” she said after her performance.

    All six Root Slam organizers have extensive and impressive experience organizing and navigating the poetry world. For example, Huey has performed poetry across the country. Janae Johnson, the Root Slam mastermind, coached UC Berkeley’s poetry team; she also won the National Poetry Slam in 2015.

    “It’s very important to us to be connected to the neighborhood.”

    — Janae Johnson, Root Slam organizer

    Terisa Siagatonu, recipient of President Obama’s Recipient of Change Award, attributed the special atmosphere of their group to the way the organizers understand their community.

    Two of six Root Slam organizers were born and raised in Oakland. The others, Siagatonu included, are hyper-aware of their position as guests. “We had to be very intentional…not to perpetuate the violence of gentrification,” Siagatonu said.

    Johnson agreed. “It’s very important to us to be connected to the neighborhood.”


    Nicole Lovett is a Tower Staff Writer. Email her at nicole.y.lovett(at)gmail.com.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
    Leave a Comment
    Donate to The Citizen
    $0
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Comments (0)

    All Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *