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Resilience and power at Awaken Cafe’s poetry slam

Cecelia Jordan, the 2016 Oakland Slam Grand Champion and 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam Oakland representative, stepped onto the backlight stage at Awaken Cafe’s Poetry Slam and urged the crowd to start organizing and thriving.

“This is survival, not war,” Jordan said during her open mic performance. Jordan was the featured poet of Awaken Cafe’s monthly open mic, and was greeted by the crowd with joyous foot stomping and cheering.

Jordan, who teaches U.S. and World History at Ralph J. Bunche High School in West Oakland by day and energizes audiences with her revolutionary activist poetry by night, told the crowd that poetry is a prayer. Jordan emphasized the importance of reflecting on trauma and “naming the things that you don’t wanna name” in order to heal and revitalize communities of color.

The cafe hosts the Oakland Poetry Slam at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month. The top two winner’s of February’s slam will go on to represent Oakland at the semi-finals for the National Poetry Slam, which will be held in Denver Colorado, on August 7-12. Both of the night’s semi-finalists were poets of color whose work powerfully confronts systemic racism with intimacy and unyielding honesty.

Jamie Williams, who scored second place out of the evening’s performing poets and will go on to compete in the semi-finals, performed a piece about Black motherhood, a tribute to his own mother’s perseverance in the face of unrelenting poverty. The Bay Area poet who performs by the name of Camilla, scored first place and will also go on to represent Oakland at the semi-finals, performed a startling piece about Mexican women’s struggles against a continuing history of colonization and structural violence.

“The 13th amendment had two loopholes called handcuffs,” Camilla said during her performance, as the crowd roared their approval. In another poem, Camilla said that if Jesus was alive today, he would be seen as a terrorist to be deported by the U.S. government.