By MICHAEL-SHAWN DUGARPULLMAN — In the realm of social activism, everyone has a voice.
Washington State University senior Drew Smith uses hers to empower others and inspire change in her community, primarily through the spoken word.
Smith, an English major at WSU, has been performing her original works on campus for years, as an individual and as a member of the WSU Poetry Slam Team and a monthly open mic group, Revolutionary Minds.
Her next performance will be Friday night at WSU at the Shades of Black Show, an annual multicultural showcase of varying talents, including poets, singers, dancers and steppers.
Smith’s spoken-word piece will follow a theme similar to many of her works: the issues. Whether it’s the issue of street harassment toward women, the rape culture perpetuated by the lyrics of famous hip-hop artists or the divide among people of color created by a difference in acceptance of homosexual African-Americans, Smith’s poems come with an in-your-face attitude, just the way she likes it.
For those 3 minutes Smith is on stage she wants to have the audience’s undivided attention while she delivers what she feels is one of the more powerful forms of artistic expression, certain to affect anyone within earshot.
“That’s what’s dope about poetry — you’re going to touch somebody, you’re going to change somebody, you’re going to make someone think a little differently, even if it’s just one person,” Smith said. “Of course there will be people that didn’t like it, but then there’s people that are like, ‘Wow, I never would’ve thought of it that way — that was really powerful.’ ”
Poetry has long been a hobby for Smith, as she recalls writing her first poem when she was 7 years old. It was a short three-bar poem detailing her feelings after the Nisqually, Wash., earthquake in 2001. Spoken word, however, is a talent she developed at WSU after finally mustering the courage to stand up and voice what had been solely in print for so long.
Smith recently organized a #Cougs4Ferguson rally on the Glenn Terrell Mall to raise awareness of the events taking place in Missouri following the killing of an unarmed black teenager by local police. She also performed at the rally.
“Sometimes the only thing that makes sense and the only thing I feel understood by is the paper and the pen,” Smith said. “Art is my activism, it’s a way that I can say things that I normally couldn’t. Poetry is important because it’s my self-expression, it’s what I do.”
Smith has become a regular on the Shades of Black Show stage, both as a solo performer and as part of duets, which she said regularly features an array of talents and various forms of activism, whether it be singing, spoken word or dancing. And though it’s traditionally a showcase highlighted by students of color, the experience is beneficial to all cultures in the audience, she said.
“Shades of Black is special because it’s such a wide audience, so many different people come to see it. The majority of the audience, honestly, is white (people),” Smith said. “It’s cool because they get to go to something that normally they wouldn’t have and it’s fun, it’s like a large-scale talent show, and it’s a cultural showcase so you get to see a lot of different things and different people.”
Naturally, the inspiration for the controversial topics of her art comes from her own first-hand experiences. She’s had men verbally harass her while walking down the streets of Seattle and Hollywood, and she’s listened as world-famous hip hop and rhythm and blues artists like Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”) and Rick Ross (“You Ain’t Even Know It”) top the charts with song lyrics that promote sexual violence against women. She’s also witnessed the lack of acceptance by older people of color in regards to gay people.
After graduation, Smith plans to spend time as a traveling poet, participating in various national competitions across the country. She also wants to become an established author.
To this point in her artistic journey, she has made the most of her college experience the way she feels most people should, by getting involved and making a difference.
“You need to be involved because it gives you that sense of family,” Smith said. “It gives you that sense of companionship and feeling like they matter, and I feel like everyone needs to feel like they matter and know that they matter. … If you went to college and you weren’t involved then you wasted your four years. You need to do something.”
IF YOU GO
What: Shades of Black Show
Where: Compton Union Building Senior Ballroom, Washington State University
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Admission is free.
A tentative list of this year’s Shades of Black Show lineup:
Che’vaniece Marshall, spoken word
Dominique Norman, spoken word
Simone Williams, spoken word
Drew Smith, spoken word
Janille Lowe, spoken word
Kode Red, dance crew
Shelby Karraker, dance
Group Effort dance company
Addam Chavarria, vocalist
Detour Dance Company, dance
God’s Harmony, choir
Amberly Johnson, vocalist
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Jessica Domingo, vocalist