Sharing poetry, healing hearts

Editor’s Note: Kiara Brown is also a staff-writer for The Lumberjack. The quotes from Brown reflect her personal thoughts and opinions, not those of The Lumberjack.

As a child, senior journalism major Kiara Brown sneakily removed a newspaper from her neighbor’s mailbox, tiptoed home and spent the next few hours rewriting one of the articles in the paper. Once her proud piece was finished, she snuck back to her neighbor’s mailbox, her rewritten article taped over the published news article. Needless to say, Brown has always been a writer at heart.

Today, Brown co-hosts a radio show called “The Brown Sugar Hour.” “The Brown Sugar Hour” airs every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. and has been running for nearly a year and a half. At first, it was a one-woman operation, but after inviting one of her friends, Kevon Mckinney on the show for multiple occasions, he became the co-host.

The duo mostly covers topics that pertain to Black culture, such as interracial dating and being Black in the workplace. They even review concerts and movies.

After her days of rewriting newspaper articles, Brown expanded her creativity and began writing more than newspaper articles when a group of poets visited her high school. She was immediately drawn to the group and even took the stage to share her own spoken word poetry with the student body.

“It’s not the soft side of poetry. It’s raw, gutted,” said Brown. “It is what you make it. For some people it could be free-form, other people like to rhyme and for some people, it sounds like rap.”

After graduating from high school, Brown was eager to exercise her creativity at NAU. She really grew as a creator during her sophomore year when she took a class centered around KJACK, the NAU student-run radio station. She was immediately eager to start her own show on KJACK, but was disappointed to discover that she’d have to wait a semester before doing so. In the meantime, she found joy in playing music that inspired her while she was on-air.

After inviting many poets on the show, Brown was encouraged to create an outlet for NAU students to share their poetry.

“I know there’s a lot of people who write but don’t have a place to share it,” Brown said.

As Brown and Mckinney brainstormed ideas for a creative outlet, two students, who were instrumental in forming Soul Tribe, a NAU poetry group, happened to overhear their conversation. Coincidentally, Soul Tribe was also looking to create a safe space for students to express themselves through song, dance and poetry. They decided to collaborate and started hosting open mic nights called The Brown Sugar Hour Meets Soul Tribe.

The first open mic night was held Oct. 4. The popularity of the event was a surprise to Brown. So many attended that she didn’t have enough seats in the room to hold everyone.

Although Brown was surprised by the turnout, she recognized that there is still a lot of room for the spoken word community to grow.

“The spoken word community here is still finding itself. In Arizona, there aren’t a lot of outlets like this, but it’s important to create that space. I’ve had a lot of people thank me for the space, whether or not they’re performing,” Brown said.

Brooke Tarver, senior criminal justice and ethnic studies major and the founder of Soul Tribe, is thankful to provide students with a space where they can express themselves through art, something that she says is her saving grace.

“It’s a great creative outlet. The people who come are vulnerable and courageous. They entrust the audience with their hearts,” said Tarver.

Tarver explained spoken word is like other art forms, and it has the power to help people through difficult times. She was drawn to spoken word after seeing one of her close friends perform. It was through her friend that she began to notice that sharing can bring about therapeutic change in people.

“I began to make connections between the power of creative expression and healing,” Tarver said.

After making the connection, Tarver was inspired to create an outlet for students to express themselves. She said God helped her to realize that hosting open mic events was a simple event she could put together, and she’s thankful that the collaboration with “The Brown Sugar Hour” has brought her dream to life. Mostly, she’s overjoyed to provide a platform for students to express themselves so that they can heal from hurtful pasts.

This outlet for expression has not only healed performers, but also audience members. Tarver explained that oftentimes hearing others express themselves challenges the audience to be vulnerable and some decide to share their own poetry on a whim.

“It’s hard to be vulnerable and wear your heart on your sleeves. It takes courage and bravery. Once you open yourself up, that feeling goes away with every word you speak. It’s good to challenge yourself to prove that you are capable,” Tarver said.

Junior biomedical major Nestelie Maignan has challenged herself to perform at The Brown Sugar Hour Meets Soul Tribe. Maignan has been writing poetry since she was eight. In sixth grade, Maignan’s poetry even won first place for her class, and she was asked to perform to the whole school. Scared to step out of her comfort zone, Maignan faked being sick that day and instead asked one of her close friends to perform for her.

Since moving to Flagstaff, Maignan has come a long way and now frequently performs her spoken word poetry at open mic events. Performing has forced her out of her comfort zone and has helped her to break her shyness. Now, Maignan is not only more comfortable talking to people, but also more comfortable speaking in front of crowds, something that her sixth grade self never would have imagined.

Maignan’s first spoken word piece titled, “Insecurities” is still her favorite that she’s written.

“It’s about things I was insecure about, and I expanded it to black women as a whole. Black women tend to be insecure about their hair, I’m insecure about my hair. They’re insecure about their skin tone, and I’m insecure about my skin tone. They’re insecure about their body like I’m insecure about my body. That’s what makes us beautiful. That’s what makes us unique,” said Maignan.

Although The Brown Sugar Hour Meets Soul Tribe has been an outlet for Maignan, other NAU students are finding ways to express themselves by getting involved in another poetry-based group, the NAU Global Cabaret. Professor Michael Rulon has found inspiration from poetry and is the director of the cabaret, a group that celebrates world culture through performance.

Reminiscing on the fond memories he had in his high school cabaret, The French, the cinema studies and first-year seminar professor was inspired to create the NAU organization five years ago.

When there’s an open slot, Rulon enjoys performing works from some of his favorite poets like Edgar Allan Poe, Victor Hugo and Jacques Prévert. He is thankful for the cabaret, a place where he has performed in French, Spanish, Italian and German, and he has enjoyed seeing the organization not only drawing together NAU students, but also the Flagstaff community.

“Performance and literature and writing are part of our culture. It’s essential to who we are. Humans have a natural drive to tell stories and to share themselves and their experiences. Spoken word is a really neat way to do that and to make a communal sharing of selves,” said Rulon.

Although the NAU spoken word community is still growing, participants like Brown, Tarver, Maignan and Rulon are making strides to reinforce the importance of expression and the healing that can come from sharing with others.

For anyone who is interested in getting involved in the spoken word community, the next The Brown Sugar Hour Meets Soul Tribe open mic event is Nov. 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. at SBS 200.