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Poet Akeem Olaj performs in U-Club

Slam poet Akeem Olaj opens poetry night with a personal poem in the U-Club on Sept. 28. The performance focused on his childhood and race discrimination. Diego Oliva

Spoken word poetry artist Akeem Olaj performed several poems (on themes of domestic violence, family dynamics and the LGBTQ+ community) and hosted a poetry workshop for students in the U-Club of the Overman Student Center. 

The event was sponsored by the Gorilla Activities Board (GAB) and took place on Tuesday, Sept. 28 starting at 7 p.m. GAB, in combination with Sodexo, provided coffee, tea and cookies as refreshments. Members of GAB also manned a table offering notebooks and pens for the workshop-portion of the event and further on upcoming GAB-sponsored activities. Additionally, the event provided counselling services via University Counselling since some of the poetry contained topics some attendees might have considered triggering.

“We do a lot more events like this and sponsor a lot of different events throughout the semester” said Tricia Combs, sophomore in strategic communications and GAB social media chair. “If you have interest in joining (GAB), you can stop by our meeting(s) on Monday night(s).”

According to the Gorilla Engage listing of the event, Olaj is a poet, playwright, activist, and much more from New Orleans, La. who is currently based in Austin, Texas. He was a co-founder, poet, and coach for “Slam New Orleans” where he won several regional and national titles for his slam poetry performances. He’s also performed as the opening act for celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar, Amanda Seals, and P-Diddy. 

Olaj read from a collection of poetry entitled “Lazaretto” (the word is Italian for a maritime quarantine station or a prison hospital) which he wrote during the height of the COVID-19 quarantine. Two signed copies of the book were gifted to winners of a raffle held during the event, and the book was offered to attending students for a reduced purchase price.

“This book is dedicated to all those who had plans for 2020 but then COVID-19 said ‘No,” the dedication to “Lazaretto” reads. “(It’s dedicated) to those that’s at home alone and worrying about how the bills will get paid, to those at sheltering in a place that’s unsafe waiting for outside to become safe enough to escape. To my life before COVID-19, I will never see you again. The least you could have done is tell me goodbye!”

After a performance consisting of several staples from Olaj’s slam career as well as selections from his book (including a newly memorized poem, as Olaj claimed to memorize a new poem for each performance to keep his skills sharp), Olaj gathered interested students together in a corner of the U-club and held a short poetry workshop. The focus of the workshop was on the theme of “love” and how to represent the different aspects of love in poetry. Students attending the workshop seemed to enjoy the provided prompts and the opportunity to share what they wrote.

“It was nice to hear poetry on serious topics from someone I could relate to and to have a safe space to reflect on those topics,” said Katelyn Laxton, freshman in criminal justice.

The next event sponsored by GAB will be “Late Night Laser Tag,” an interactive laser tag game to be held Friday, Oct. 8 starting at 9 p.m. in the ballrooms of the Overman Student Center.

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