Emma Kelsey – Staff Writer
The Lyrical Cafe is a unique program here at Gustavus and offers Gusties with an array of opportunities. Created in Spring 2021 by Kareem Watts, Assistant Director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, Lyrical Cafe is a platform all students on campus, especially students of color and other marginalized groups, are encouraged to participate in.
It is a way for students to express themselves, and “share their cultural experiences through poetry, rap, song and dance,” Watts said.
Yuleima Aguilar Garcia (‘23) shares what she appreciates about the Lyrical Cafe program: “I really like the fact that with each LC we have, we do a different theme. Nearly every theme coincides with something the Center may be promoting that month or with a national month such as Hispanic heritage month, First generation month, Domestic Violence Awareness month, Human rights, etc.” She also says that it gives students a chance to come together, have fun, and show off their talents.
According to Watts, students usually perform a poem, song, or even a dance. Watts contributes to the events in numerous ways: As the program’s founder, he usually hosts or co-hosts with a student, or has a small group of students co-host an LC event. He also lends his skills with an event’s audio needs, and even shares some of his own music and poetry.
“Each month students from all social and cultural backgrounds get to perform and speak in front of a live audience, and share their music, song, or dance based on the theme of the month,” Watts said. He also adds that this opportunity provides students with important life skills– like being able to speak or perform in front of larger groups of people. “It gives all students, including those from culturally diverse backgrounds, an opportunity to use their voice.
It’s about freedom of expression where diversity in race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and age is celebrated and welcomed,” Watts said.
The opportunities this program has provided certainly has had an impact on Gustavus students. “From the student perspective, it gives my peers and I the ability to be ourselves without any judgment. Students go there to share with us something meaningful and impactful which we all appreciate greatly. It has only made the community closer,” Garcia said.
Gusties have a chance to experience a Lyrical Cafe event this Friday, April 29th, at 6:00 p.m. outside in the Eckman Mall. This will be the first time the event is held somewhere other than the CIE.
The theme for this Friday’s event is “First Generation”, and the program is designed to encourage first generation students, staff, faculty, and administrators to participate. “Everyone is welcome to come out and listen to live music and poetry performed on stage,” Watts said. While the team hopes for ideal weather, in the case of rain or snow, the event will move into the CIE.
The LC program has overcome great obstacles this year, especially in the face of the pandemic. This spring, the program started off virtually– with a virtual Lyrical Cafe for J-term, featuring Joe Davis and Kareem Elevated. Watts shares that the events have gone well these past few months–the participants have persevered to make this program successful, and one that enables students to share experiences in unique ways they may not otherwise be able to.
The most recent program, the LC Bloc Party, was a smashing success. “We partnered with GWIL & PASO to feature our special guest ‘Jaki Blue,’ along with some delicious catered food from Soul Bowl in Minneapolis. Now we’re adding the icing on the cake with the April 29th Friday Turn Up on.” Watts said. The Friday Turn Up also includes Dancing with Diversity Hmong Line Dance workshop at 7:00 p.m..
The Lyrical Cafe at Gustavus is not only a program that puts on fun events–it is one that gives students an opportunity to share their talents, and their unique personal and cultural experiences. This program not only provides students with opportunities to express themselves, but empowers them to do so, and enthusiastically welcomes everyone.