Here I was.
Without a call
or a name
or a place to call home;
and yet the home,
when I looked up
and saw the sun —
the sky reflect betwixt the eye —
I became what I didn’t see.
I became the glory.
Transferring to Cal State Fullerton was a shock. Here I was, a 21-year-old poet, freshly plucked from the East Coast, trying to find my footing as I navigate the waters of the California State University system.
Everything was different, from the political emphasis of work ethic to the constant sunshine during winter months. I found myself temporarily lost, trying to grapple with the hustle and bustle of collegiate city life.
I didn’t know much about being a Titan then; I didn’t spend much time on campus because I felt I had no place there.
I needed to find an artistic outlet, and fast, so I turned to the College of the Arts in what I hoped would be a welcome introduction to my life as a poet-artist. I had ground my footing as a poet in the greater Los Angeles area, booking speaking events at nearby universities for birthday celebrations and wedding anniversaries, so surely the College of the Arts would be a natural place for me to call home.
I was wrong.
Despite my knack for the arts, despite my years in choir and advanced jazz or my skill for performance poetry, I was told that the college had no place for me or any other student without a major or minor in the arts to perform onstage. Gone was the possibility of becoming a thespian, gone was the chance to incorporate my poetry into song, gone was the ability to participate.
I felt even more lost.
Here I was, alone in new terrain, with my wool coat from my East Coast snow days still slung dormant in my trunk, as one of less than 900 African-American students on campus.
Here I was, without a way to be myself. It was as if I wasn’t welcome to connect. It was true, Titans did reach higher, but was I a Titan?
I lost myself further, swallowed by the depths of misplacement, drowning more and more, until I became tired of being lost. I realized that who I was couldn’t be confined to a university program or organization. I didn’t need to be surrounded by people who looked like me to know that I belonged.
Here I was, in the middle of Orange County, adjacent to one of the most artistically expressive cities in the world. I had all the more resources and opportunities to find what I could become. I decided, then, to venture from the confines of the blue and orange, and find a home within L A in some of its hidden gems of artistic expression. I began to frequent small boutique venues like The Ugly Mug, where writers near OC could convene every Wednesday night to recite poetry, monologue, short essays, novellas, excerpts of scripts or anything scrawled in ink on a piece of paper or computer screen.
I no longer needed Fullerton to be my artistic home, I had found it.
Venues like Da Poetry Lounge, the self-proclaimed largest weekly open mic in the country — host to rising artists like Floetry, Ed Sheeran and JP Saxe — became my weekly getaway from the stress of college life.
The @inkSlam invitational goes down tonight at 9pm. 12 Poets competes over 3 rounds for $1500 in cash. You should be there. Special 50% discount if you mention DPL or our host of the event @therealshihan pic.twitter.com/JSy26M9OJU
— Da Poetry Lounge (@DaPoetryLounge) April 21, 2018
A few months into my transition to Fullerton, just as I began to build a life for myself, I discovered smaller gems on campus dedicated to creatives. The Afro-Ethnic Student Association’s annual Fusion Open Mic — a night given to students of color allowing them to showcase their artistic abilities, from song to spoken word, from stand-up to dance — became a pastime, met with excitement and collaboration from students both at CSUF and in the surrounding area.
The College of the Arts didn’t provide much aside from a few elective courses, but I knew the CSUF community still had a place for me to be creative.
It was in Fusion Open Mic; it was in Advertising Club’s biweekly industry meetings; it was at the One Club Creative Bootcamp at the acclaimed 72andSunny advertising agency; it was even on campus with the newly founded Movement Dance. Simultaneously as I had been grappling for the means to express myself, students on campus were creating these avenues because they too, needed a place to call their canvas, even if the canvas wasn’t given to them.
As I continued frequenting places like Da Poetry Lounge and the Ugly Mug, as I got involved with AdClub and the One Club, I realized I didn’t need to be provided an artistic outlet in the traditional sense, because I was surrounded by them, in different cities, in different ways.
When you live with art in your backyard, you learn to take advantage of all its possibilities and opportunities.
I’m still a little upset by the lack of artistic outlets sponsored by the College of Arts for all students on campus, but I know these resources don’t define my art; I know I can create these resources for myself. Whether through poetry, or advertising or as a marketing intern at the African American Resource Center — artistic expression is a daily lived experience for me.
Be the opportunity you seek; chances are someone’s waiting for you to find it.