U students talk sex at open mic event

Students are encouraged to share any form of artistic expression at the events.

Justin Horwath

As Daniel Berhane stepped up to the mic in the crowed auditorium, the audience hushed as he started performing a poem he wrote to warn the next generation about families broken by sexual temptations.

“Families exist in tragedies/Broken kids become hopeless/because their parents focused on self-indulgence,” said Berhane, a continuing education student.

Berhane’s performance was part of an event held by Voices Merging, a multicultural spoken word organization. The group hosts open mic events every second and fourth Monday in Moos Tower to showcase a variety of poets and performers.

Monday night drew an unusually large crowd with an often controversial topic: sex.

In the auditorium, the group deejay, human resources senior Matthew Hartung, flanked the stage behind his vast musical library and switchboard.

“It’s not a surprise that once you put the word sex in something, students show up,” Hartung said.

The audience featured a mixture of official group members, students from the University and members of the surrounding community.

Hamline University sophomore Winta Yacob said she attended a spoken word event at the University of St. Thomas.

“I just enjoy spoken word and it has a good ambiance and atmosphere,” Yacob said.

As students trickled in to the event, sophomore Lenora Magee-Howard and first-year student Thomas Toley finished the first poem of the night.

“Be one with my belly, I’m peanut butter and she’s jelly,” Toley said, and proceeded to state the only rules the group enforces: turn off cell phones, keep pieces under five minutes, stay seated until the performer finishes, no heckling and be safe – referring to the topic of the night.

Voices Merging historian Yndia Robinson said there are a lot of misconceptions about the group, emphasizing that they would like to draw more students of different backgrounds and artistic talents.

“Any form of expression (is welcome), even if somebody just wants to get on the mic if they’ve had a bad day,” Robinson said.

Voices Merging started in fall of 2002 with the guidance of Cedric Bolton, who then served the University as a student adviser and has since departed the University.

The budding group was held together by about 15 student’s interest in poetry, but has since blossomed to feature different forms of artistic expression such as rap, singing and instrumental performances.

Voices Merging president Gloria Nyauncho said the group has yet to reach its full potential.

“Combining art with poetry so we can offer a variety of artistic avenues would be something we’re working on,” Nyauncho said.

Hartung – one of the senior members of the group – said the groups informality was apparent at its genesis.

“When we started out it was real humble; it’s just been growing over the years,” Hartung said. “We had such a high demand that without getting organized, we couldn’t maintain the group.”

With Bolton’s departure came a more organized Voices Merging that started performing at non-university venues, most often high schools in the area. First-year student Jasmine Omorogbe said her decision to attend the University was heavily influenced when the group performed at her school – Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis.

“It was one of the main things I wanted to do,” Omorogbe said.