Slam poet wraps up GV’s Intercultural Festival


Mackenzie Bush


Mary Racette

Slam Poet Ebony Stewart combined poetry and activism in her performance for Grand Valley State University students at the Cook-DeWitt Center on March 25. The performance was put on by the GVSU Campus Activity Board (CAB).

Opening her hour on stage, Stewart shared that she wanted audience participation. Students remained engaged throughout the entirety of the hour. Encouraging honest reactions from the audience, she spent her time talking directly to the students.  

“Poetry tends to open people’s minds a lot more and gives them a different way to hear something,” Stewart said. 

Stewart has earned numerous awards for her slam poetry. She holds three adult female slam championship titles in Austin, Texas and is the 2017 Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion. Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, Write About Now, Poetry Slam Inc. and Afro-Punk. 

Stewart was a sexual health instructor for sixth graders prior to her slam poetry career. She shared stories from her job and tied these themes and experiences into her poetry. 

Throughout her performance, Stewart addressed themes for the black experience, womanhood and humanity. Due to her past with sex education, Stewart incorporated messages of sexual health in her work.

In between poems, Stewart asked students questions which ultimately played into her next topic. Students were asked to raise their hands to share their fears and ask questions. Stewart responded to each student with her acquired wisdom and opinions.  

Before her final poem, Stewart passed a box with a pen and paper for students to ask anonymous questions. Students’ questions ranged from asking about her career to asking for relationship advice. Stewart offered her honest perspective in each answer, ensuring the audience understood it was her opinion. 

Stewart is from Houston but tours internationally to spread her poems and activism. Every year, Central Michigan University includes her in their Leadership Safari for incoming freshmen. Her March 25 performance was her first time on a GVSU campus.

“I am super fortunate that schools will see me perform and want me to come to their schools and talk to their students,” Stewart said.

CAB decided to bring Stewart to campus after seeing her performance at the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) Grand Rapids convention. Stewart is the first slam poet CAB has brought to GVSU. 

“Ebony put on an amazing performance and was well-received by the crowd,” said CAB adviser Kelly Wrobel. “Ebony touches on several important topics including intersectionality and sexuality and we thought it was important to give students the opportunities to learn more through her spoken word.”

The slam poetry event closed out the 2019 Intercultural Festival on campus. The festival, which went from March 20 to 25, has been a GVSU tradition for 14 years. This year, the festival celebrated different cultures through workshops, film, dancing and poetry.

The next event hosted by CAB will be the spring concert featuring Blackbear on Thursday, April 4.