Last weekend, Shades of Pearl hosted the “‘Speak Your Truth, Sis!’: The Lived Experiences of Women of Color” symposium. Hear a recap of the event from one of the presenters, senior Atolani Ladipo.
During the weekend of March 30th, I had the opportunity to be a part of Shades of Pearls’ “‘Speak Your Truth, Sis!’: The Lived Experiences of Women of Color” Race, Class, Gender & Sexuality Symposium. This is the first of its kind at Wittenberg; a one-day event that allowed women of color to share their truth. At least that’s how I took it.
I participated in this event by speaking on a panel about identity crisis/politics being a black woman of Nigerian descent, and also sharing three poems from a collection I’ve been working on titled “Ivory & Iron: Poems that Explore African Diasporic Womanhood.” It was a no-brainer for me to send in a proposal to perform at the symposium—this was something I wasn’t aware I had been waiting for during my four years at Wittenberg.
As this is my last semester at Wittenberg (unbelievable), I’ve been thinking long and hard about my future and what I want my next steps to be. It might be public knowledge now because of the symposium, but I have aspirations to be a published author of both novels and poetry. However, this was something I didn’t really share with a lot of people outside my friend groups. However, I’m taking an activism in poetry class with Dr. Kate Polak and it’s really allowed me to hone in on social justice issues important to me (not discounting the others), and write poems on them.
Playing with different forms and emulating other poets’ works birthed my “Princess of Yoruba” poem. For this poem I drew inspiration from the Yoruba oral tradition of Moremi Ajasoro, a Nigerian woman who had to sacrifice her son in order to save her people from the neighboring enemies. In this poem, I was working with motherhood, sacrifice, beauty and I wanted it to start a conversation about a black mother’s sacrifice.
My other two poems, “Ivory and Iron” and “The World Ended” dealt more with the black female body and the precarity of black childhood. I worked on these two poems outside of the class on my own and with a few others, my collection started forming itself. For the collection, I wanted the common focus to be the many complex issues that exist within the African diaspora and how they affect black people, especially black women. Colonialism, slavery, motherhood, and sacrifice are some of the major motifs (especially in the poems I presented) but my hope is to combat issues of colorism, animal abuse/degradation, poverty, and immigration—just to name a few.
Leading up to my performance, I was pretty nervous. I’m not one to shy away from standing in front of a crowd—I love the attention, I can’t lie—but this one was a whole ‘nother ballpark. For one, I’d never performed poems and two, I didn’t know what the outcome of speaking on things important to me (and which would affect me as well) would be. And I invited a lot of people to come out, even though I was jumpy. Working with Dr. Polak, Dr. Sha’Dawn Battle, and Dr. Kim Anderson and having run-throughs with other performers helped alleviate some of my anxiousness. Funnily enough, I think I had stressed so much about it that when the time came to get up in front of everyone, all I felt was composed and ready. My friend had helped design a beautiful pamphlet with my poems on it, my roommates sat through countless read-throughs, and my friends/family were relentless in their encouragement. The outpour of support was immense, and I was super grateful for it.
I didn’t just perform my poems, I was also a part of a roundtable discussion which was titled, “Where Does My Name Come From?: Identity Crises of People of Color” where we discussed our experiences being women of color from West Africa and having to mold our identities to the culture in America, starting with our names. This powerful conversation was thought up by my friend/roommate and I’m so glad—and honored—that I was able to discuss my own experiences having to grow up in America and not be called by my first name because it was “difficult” to pronounce. I love both my first and middle name, but I didn’t realize how much I preferred being called “Atolani” until my mom started calling me “Victoria” because everyone around us was. That’s when I knew I had to reclaim back my first name.
When our roundtable discussion ended, we actually had a few people from the audience (including a professor) share some experiences struggling with their cultural identity and that was the most moving part for me. We’re all facing some kind of battle and there’s healing in sharing your story with others, especially those who personally understand.
Needless to say, it was an amazing, important day; the symposium had received a warm reception from both students and faculty at Wittenberg and visitors alike. Wittenberg definitely made a turn for the better and I hold out hope that with more symposiums in the future to come, more people will be open to accepting that there is not one life to live and one story to tell. I don’t think I’m speaking for myself when it felt like us black women felt visible, and not in a bad way, even if it was just for one day. It’s not a feeling I’ll let go anytime soon.
Here are the three poems that Atolani read during the symposium.
“Ivory and Iron”
To poach the tusks from my face is to rid me of my worth.
To leave me in the stranded safari depleted of my crowns of glory,
is to ignore my hemorrhaging iron on this metal table. You see,
I’ve just given birth to another one of my kind’s own—no one
has cut my umbilical cord, yet there was no hesitation in taking
my ancestor’s ivory. My pain is immeasurable, yet they’ve been
taught to think unhinged pleasure is the thing arching my back
into a bridge, the promises of gold residing on the other end.
Ridden, I take many on a journey through the sands of time
but once again my story is neglected; the last one to be told.
Eternally silenced until a moan reverberates from deep inside my gut
because I can no longer take it anymore. Now they think
I’m mourning—I’m the one about to die! body temperature
dropping like the value of my stolen goods; I’m not so
limited anymore. Soon enough, you’ll be able to check the
Black market but only after I close my eyes and release a sigh
of essence into my newborn—only! because you decided to save
their life, instead of mine. Here I am, this is how
you’ll find me: ivory tusks and iron blood.
“The Princess of Yoruba”
My mother never would’ve been beautiful in peace
suitors amassing at her father’s door at the
peak of dawn
up until the remnants of light disappeared.
Yet the sun stayed on her skin
butter melting cocoa
caressing her silhouette like a lover.
Who was her king
in the realm of a fortress that exalted and believed
in her sacredness?
She mounts an onyx steed who molds himself
to fit her growing legs and they are formed,
an àkùré that is all black and equates
moving to one accord
each step sending tremors
and ripples through the earth
as they glide
until she is trapped in a monsoon
awakened by the moon.
She spoke life into
wishes granted by a
burning star, invisible orisha
she was not vain
yet her father sang his gospels.
Mother stop screaming
Mother stop screaming
Mother stop screaming for I am your greatest sacrifice
a prince who descended from the heavenly caverns.
crystal and ivory and dirt
made from minerals
of an earth that could not sustain
the naturality of her
“The World Ended”
The world ended
the day the white man planted
his feet in our ivory dust, sword
refracting the inverse rainbow
forged in the sky. Tears of ice
shattering my mama’s ebony
cheeks, eyes sharp like stones
piercing my fetal heart—
I was just but a child. Mayhem
rolled in the forms of clouds
the color of iron, the scent of ire
a tasteless clash against the blue
which never ended but spanned
over the seas and the trees—
what corruption! Daddy whose
skin a shadow of the darkness
that just arrived, wrapped
his thick fingers around his war
spear tightly, the same way he
curled them around my mama’s
breasts and growled, predator
that he was. Prey that he is.
Splayed in ashes, deepred cascades
from the waterfall in his chest
the same way brightred trickles down
my legs—I was no longer a child.
Screams echoed by the birds
snakes lions never heard before
and visceral ragged coughs
choking on air-blood-helplessness
louder than the ticking bomb in
my chest; a sudden explosion in
the exterior followed by fire burning
water, sorcery. Black bodies floating
like feathers to the grains of our
abundant land and one after another—
my brethren never stood a chance.
I was just but a child when the world