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Spoken Word Poet Performs Powerful Social Commentary

Elizabeth Rivera, March 12, 2008
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On March 5, students and faculty packed Alice Holst theater for the world premier of Bryonn Bain’s one-man show We Are and So I Am, a 76-minute performance that blends hip-hop and spoken word to tell the story of his experience with an unjust prison system, racism, and how to move forward despite the existence of both. And how the different influences in his life have come together to make him who he is.

Bain is a spoken-word poet and prison activist. He’s a  Nuyorican Grand Slam Poetry Champion; founder of the Blackout Arts Collective, a grassroots organization that brings workshops and performances to public schools and prisons; and current host of BET-J’s current affairs talk show “My Two Cents.” He’s also an actor and world traveler. He is currently performing off-Broadway in the production From Auction Block to Hip-hop and is the “Poet-in-Residence” at New School University in New York.

Bain experienced the unjust hand of the law when he was taken in for a crime he didn’t commit. His only crime: being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. The experience he had proving his innocence and dealing with the prison system greatly impacted him and opened his eyes to the prison crisis currently happening in America. Bain explains that America is imprisoning more people than any other country in the world. He wants to “call attention to the contradictions that are alive in the country.”

Bain’s identity is a culmination of many different things and many different faiths. He comes from a family that has both Muslims and Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists. He grew up in a working-class family and has an Ivy League education. As a Harvard law graduate and artist, Bain has resources that others who have experienced similar injustices don’t have access to. “I have experiences both of being very privileged and also of overcoming. My life and consequently my story bring together these two worlds that usually don’t mix.” Bain is not the only minority who has experienced injustice; the difference is that he is using the resources available to him to start a movement. “In America we like to cast black people as ‘crying victim,’ but since I have a formal education that is exceptional, I am able to get the microphone and have a wider audience listen to me.”

Bain inspired not only a standing ovation, but also a thoughtful talkback discussion that lasted about an hour and a half. Students and faculty kept bringing up new questions and comments, and Bain was more than willing to talk with them. “ I was very impressed with the caliber of students, how sharp they are, the questions they asked, how long they stayed for talkback. … I was also impressed with how supportive the faculty was for someone whose language can sometimes embrace profanity to talk about profane conditions in the world as part of my artistic license. … I very much look forward to having an opportunity to return and continuing the conversations we had while I was here.”

Bain has started little ripples of conversation in every direction here on campus. Conversations about race, sexism, equality, art — which is exactly what he and Mei-Ann Teo, PUC’s resident artist and the director of We are and So I Am, wanted. Students and faculty have been deeply affected and inspired by Bain’s one man show, as well as the social work colloquium he spoke at and the poetry class he workshopped. Margarette Zelaski, a student and spoken word poet herself, said, “Any time he performed one of his poems it was good. It was inspiring because he was like a flint and his words sparked a fire within some of us.”

Teo, who has been collaborating with Bain on this project, invited him to PUC because she sensed that there was a need that he could fill. Bringing Bain and exposing PUC to his perspective was part of her endeavors to help PUC grow. “ I kept seeing students who I wanted to inspire but that would take a certain kind of drama that was different. … I was blown away by Bain’s perspective. He says things that are controversial but speaks from a specific perspective, and every time something blows my mind I want to bring it to the students.”

The conversation doesn’t stop here. Bain struck a cord at PUC both that continues to spark dialogue and awareness on campus.

If you’d like to learn more about Bryonn Bain, please visit his website at www.bryonnbain.com where you can learn more about the projects he’s working on.