Last year, Mandy Shunnarah read 77 books, some with stories she could not personally relate to. Growing up as a white woman in Birmingham, Alabama, Shunnarah said she was cushioned by her privilege.
“I’ll be the first to admit, people in my family would say these awful, racist things,” Shunnarah said. “I would hear this stuff and then there actually came a point, where I was in first, second, third grade where — because I did not know it was wrong — I would casually repeat it.”
When her teachers asked why she thought that language was appropriate, Shunnarah said even as a seven or eight-year-old she did not have an answer.
“Because there is not an answer, other than hatred,” Shunnarah said. “I realized that there’s clearly a lot that I don’t know…I have to learn myself and the only way I’m going to do that is by reading people, (with their) boots on the ground, who are there, who have these experiences that are willing to share them.”
On Monday, Shunnarah will host “Poetry for a Revolution” at Wild Goose Creative as a way for people to listen and speak out against social injustices through spoken word poetry.
Shunnarah said that while President Donald Trump’s racial slurs prior to the election and his executive orders since inspired the event, the fight against discrimination is an old one.
“All of these terrible things (Trump) is saying is very bad because it’s coming from one person and coming from the person who is now the president, but it’s nothing that people in power have never said before,” Shunnarah said.
In an effort to end that rhetoric, artists, activists and citizens alike are invited to share their stories by reading social-issue poetry from their original work or from the work of someone else.
“One event is not going to change the world, but it is our responsibility to try,” Shunnarah said. “It’s people’s jobs as citizens of humanity…to elevate people’s voices, help people who have historically not been invited to the table, who have discriminated against.”
Shunnarah said marginalized groups — those who have made to feel less than for an attribute that they have no control over — are especially encouraged to speak on their experiences.
“A lot of the poetry I’ve been reading lately is by really incredible and talented and really smart, fascinating women of color who are just putting their experiences out there,” Shunnarah said. “I want to support that art.”
But the event is just as much about reading as it is about listening.
“We can all be an ally to somebody,” Shunnarah said. “The first step to being a good ally is just listening and the way that people listen is, when artists create things, especially artists with marginalized identities, go look at that art, go listen to those readings, go support the work that they’re doing.”
Justin Johnson, executive director of Wild Goose Creative and a 2014 Ohio State alumnus with a Ph.D. in musical arts, said Wild Goose is a venue that will allow people to do just that.
“Wild Goose is a really versatile space and it can be transformed into any number of event style so we have a stage, we have tables, we have chairs, we have a sound system,” Johnson said. “Anyone can come to Wild Goose and transform the event into anything they can imagine.”
Johnson said the heavy focus on hospitality and openness of the event room has allowed for young, aspiring artists to share their work in a community setting.
“It’s important for us to give people a platform to have their voice be heard,” Johnson said. “We’re founded on four values which are creativity, community, hospitality and education. Poetry for the Revolution meets all four of those.”
People who want to participate are encouraged to reach out to Shunnarah via the Facebook event page ahead of the event. While Shunnarah said she will not limit anyone who wishes to speak, the event already has 20 speakers and over 80 willing to listen.
Wildgoose is located at 2491 Summit Street in Clintonville, Ohio. Poetry for a revolution will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. on Monday.