Open mic opens minds to diversity

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Sleepless Goat Café for my first POCTALK event on July 18.

POCTALK, otherwise known as a “People of Colour” Talk, is an open-mic series aiming to provide a safe place to people of colour, mixed race and Indigenous background to share their lives, poetry and histories.

As I began to grow restless in my seat, the first speaker approached the microphone and read an entry from her former diary. She openly disclosed her past and present challenges with the audience, with a particular focus on the healing process.

Similar acts followed and I was surprised to hear the passion behind these non-fiction narratives. Performers shared personal topics such as what it meant to be black, Asian, sad, depressed, manic or healed.

POCTALK was the brainchild of Raissa Simone, a former Queen’s student who completed her Masters Program in Cultural Studies. Simone, MA ’13, wanted an outlet in which she could freely express herself as a self-identified person of colour.

After spending six years in Kingston, she noticed an increasing imperative to address the lack of “POC-centrism”. With a few other friends, Simone held a Poetry Slam at the Sleepless Goat last January.

POCTALK was then inaugurated.

Hosting one event per month, POCTALK has organized seminars, academic discussions, slam poetry stages and film screenings.

The series hopes to establish itself within the wider artistic community in Kingston and has been reaching out to other communities such as the Artel and the AKA Autonomous Social Centre, Simone added. Groups such as OPIRG Kingston and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre at Queen’s have also been fundamental to POCTALK’s development thanks to their funding support.

Whether expressing themselves through spoken word, song or journal entries, they shared their struggles through artistic expression with the hopes of seeing their fragmented narratives brought into solidarity.

For July’s event, POCTALK invited Lady Sin Trayda, born Ryan Kai Cheng Thom, a spoken word artist from Montreal, to perform several pieces on love, self-discovery and childhood as seen through the eyes of a person of colour.

Donning electric blue lipstick and a fiery red cheongsam, a traditional Chinese gown, Lady Sin encouraged us to share our stories with one another. While she understood that the stories shared that night were ones that broke the storytellers, she also wanted those same stories to heal. Going back through the concept of storytelling and retelling, she understood the healing process that can only be realized through the catharsis of expression.

Lady Sin brought us back to our original stories — our parentage and our ancestors. She spoke of how her father, as a first generation immigrant, experienced his first taste of racism. When she asked him whether he still felt bitterness toward Caucasians to this day, his father replied, “Why would I feel bitterness towards Caucasians? I think they’re great. It’s the Aboriginals you’ve got to look out for.”

Her simple anecdote reveals the complexity that decades of brokenness and hurt have contorted society today.

POCTALK provided the perfect environment for closing the space between storyteller and listener. It allowed for an air of camaraderie rather than showmanship.

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