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Student performs for the first time at Soulful Expressions on Feb. 8

 Photo by Julia Riddle

“People don’t understand,” says Sakinna Gairey. “I get a lot of questions during February like, ‘Why can’t we have a White History Month?’ and I’m just like, ‘Because the whole rest of the year’s about you.’”

Gairey, a first-year public relations student at the University of Ottawa, has a way of speaking that cuts straight to the point. She will perform spoken word at Soulful Expressions, an annual talent show organized for Black History Month  by the U of O’s Black Student Leaders Association (BSLA).

While she’s been writing poetry for years, Soulful Expressions will be Gairey’s first time performing in front of a large audience.

Describing her poetry as largely autobiographical, she calls her writing an artistic outlet and says, “A lot of it’s very anger-fuelled, very serious.”

“I don’t really write funny poetry, which is really sad because I like funny poetry,” she adds.

She cites a variety of artists as role models, like Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, and Lupe Fiasco, but doesn’t limit herself to inspiration from self-professed poets.

“Honestly, every speaker has their own rhythm, so even if you’re not a spoken word artist, you can always learn from that,” she says.

Gairey has been part of the BSLA since the beginning of the school year. The club hosts weekly discussions around hot-button racial issues, like Miley Cyrus and the “n-word,” providing its members with a safe and inclusive forum to talk about matters impacting the black community.

She explains the importance of Black History Month as a way of bringing racial identity into the limelight. She describes the school setting as one place in which she’s noticed an absence of cultural discourse, saying that in a lot of her classes, “They’ll take the race or the culture — and not even just black culture, minority cultures overall — they’ll take it out of the picture even when it’s really obvious it should be in the picture.”

Elaborating on the media’s portrayal of black history and its place in February, Gairey expresses some frustration with its lack of breadth.

“We focus so much on the civil rights movement,” she says. “But there were black people before the civil rights movement.”

In the end, however, she defines the month as a celebration — a chance to have fun.

“I think it’s so important to celebrate Black History Month because honestly, it feels like the one time of the year when you can actually just go all out.”

Soulful Expressions will be held Feb. 8 from 7 to 10 p.m. in Room 4007 of the Faculty of Social Sciences building. The show is run in conjunction with the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and admission is free.

Apart from spoken word, performances will include a stepping act, a fashion show, singing, and comedy. There will be a pre-show reception at 6 p.m., a DLow shuffle contest — a dance move that originated in West Side Chicago — with prizes at intermission, and an after-party at 1848 featuring discounted food and drink.


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