Telling HERstory: Women’s history month celebrated through poetry jam

Images from Poetry jam held at the MSSC to celebrate women’s history month. PHOTO CREDIT: Ellie Shennann | Staff Reporter

The University of Rhode Island’s Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC) hosted an open mic night about celebrating women on March 2 as an introduction to Women’s History Month.

Titled “HERstory Poetry Jam,” this MSSC event was a collaboration with Outspoken PVD, a bi-monthly poetry showcase in Providence and Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable (P.I.N.K.) Women, a MSSC student organization. 

“Today I celebrate her,” Sara Monteiro, ‘08, co-chair of URI’s Alumni Network and founder of Outspoken PVD, said. “Not just myself. The women I came from, the people I birth. Today we will celebrate her story.”

The HERstory Poetry Jam featured three URI students, words from Monteiro’s family and friends, and a room full of listeners.

Second-year Ashanti Reyes recited her original poem entitled “Queen,” while third-year fundraising chair of P.I.N.K. Women Ibi Akomolafe recited her poems “Ode to Menstruation” and “You’re Above” and Rosalinda Hernandez Barrera recited her poem “The Worry Doll.” 

The poetry jam also featured Sarah-Ashley Maynard, one of Monteiro’s friends who lives in Providence. 

Maynard’s first poem from the event paid homage to civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou, as she ended her recitation with the words “This caged bird sang of freedom.”

The second poem Maynard read aloud described her personal struggle with endometriosis, an inflammatory condition that affects the uterus. This poem was also important to the event because March, in addition to being Women’s History Month, is also Endometriosis Awareness Month. 

Monteiro applauded these HERstory Poetry Jam Speakers for their bravery and passion to speak out about women’s issues.

Monteiro grew up with her mother hosting “open slams,” or poetry jams, and has ever since been “nestled” by poetry. Because she comes from somebody who encouraged her own self-growth and self-expression, Monteiro hopes to encourage her children to be who they are.

After explaining the role poetry played in her life growing up, Monteiro’s son performed a contemporary dance to Beyonce’s song entitled “Spirit.” 

“The world is a heavy place to live in, but my shoulders are strong,” Monteiro said. “”My back [is] made up by women who lived through the impossible.”

Outspoken PVD was created by Monteiro in 2006 as a venue that would foster a safe space for people of color (POC) to speak their truth, in a way that is not inhibited nor controlled, according to her.

Monteiro’s homegrown poetry showcase aims to encourage people of color to reflect on their journeys while celebrating each other and encouraging creativity.

Outspoken PVD operates as an after school program for high school students, particularly freshmen, according to Monteiro. With the training program, Monteiro combines teamwork and presentation skills with social emotional learning. Poetry is a “safe conduit” to explore these skills of self-expression and self-recognition, as there is “less judgment” within the program.

Held in the MSSC’s Hardge Forum, the HERstory Poetry Jam had a focus on praising and inspiring women by allowing speakers to share their struggles and listeners to relate to them. Some people come to Outspoken PVD showcases with the “curiosity to observe,” while others “need to speak their truth right then.” 

P.I.N.K. Women reached out to the MSSC with the idea of having a poetry jam after the Center had decided to work with Outspoken PVD, according to Robert Britto-Oliveria, Monteiro’s Alumni Network co-chair and assistant director of the MSSC. 

P.I.N.K. Women is a student organization that aims to enhance the undergraduate experience of URI’s multicultural women, while also preparing the group’s graduate students for later success in the workforce, according to P.I.N.K Women’s Instagram. This group encourages alumni participation at their events as a way to show how the organization fosters career opportunities.

Outspoken PVD has been “intentional” with its collaborations, and seeks to work with organizations dealing with equity and inclusion, according to Monteiro. For the MSSC, collaborations with the Talent Development program, Africana Studies program and student organizations are a means of furthering URI’s goals of community, equity and diversity.

Monteiro hopes to continue to share truth and experience through Outspoken PVD and future collaborations.

“Today we are here to celebrate the women who tuck you in at night and tell you that the monsters under your bed are not real,” Monteiro said. “Today we celebrate the women that gave birth to us, that labored for us, that paid for us. Today we celebrate the women that birthed her. We go all the way back to our roots to understand what her story is— it’s an untold story, a covered story often washed out and claimed by others. Today we give her her flowers.”