‘Climbing PoeTree’ performance engages audience

Naima Penniman of Climbing Poetree performs spoken word on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, during an Ocean campus Women’s Day event. Photo by Elisa Parrino/The Guardsman
Naima Penniman of Climbing Poetree performs spoken word on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, during an Ocean campus Women’s Day event. Photo by Elisa Parrino/The Guardsman

By Elisabetta Silvestro/The Guardsman

City College celebrated International Women’s Day with its ninth annual Intersecting Identities Conference on March 11, featuring speeches, poetry, movies and dances.

Each year’s event has a different focus. The previous conferences had themes such as homelessness, gay culture and transgenderism.

This year’s theme was “Stop bullying Mother Earth, all her children, food, water, shelter, community.”

The event lasted all day and a total of 250 participants, mostly female students.

“It was a way to stop bullying, hate crimes and stereotypes,” Jean Ishibashi, event organizer and women’s and interdisciplinary studies professor, said. “We wanted to make it a safe campus.”

International Women’s Day has been observed on different days with different names since the early 1900s. The reason has always been social change, from the right to vote to better work conditions.

The main event was the performance by Climbing PoeTree, the New York-based poetry group formed by Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman. The two poets combine performance and activism, mixing together poetry and rap, environmental issues and social change.

Their performance captivated the audience and overcrowded Room 140 of the Multi Use Building.

With enthralling rhythm and perfect coordination, Garcia and Penniman recited powerful poems about social, environmental, racial and sexual justice, women’s empowerment, human transcendence, gentrification, love and violence.

Garcia and Penniman’s mission is to use art as a tool for popular education, community organizing and personal transformation for a more livable and just world.

Over the last 10 years, Climbing PoeTree has performed in front of thousands of people across the U.S. and abroad. They have been working since 2010 on a year-long multimedia social justice curriculum for universities and high schools.

During the rest of the day, women shared stories of immigration, poverty, bullying and liberation.

Other women recited poems about being victimized for their race, appearance and personal hardships and their success in overcoming such an obstacle.

Lisette Lucas from Voices of Immigrants Demonstrating Achievement talked about her struggles as an undocumented student. She wanted to study, but the out-of-state tuition was too high and the chances of getting a job were small.

Then she found out about California Assembly Bill 540, a law that allows unprotected immigrant students to pay in-state tuition, to benefit from financial aid and to obtain employment authorization.

Lucas’ life has since changed.

Her father was deported and she is living alone with her daughter, but she helps students who are in the same situation as she was.

Now, Lucas said, she is “undocumented and unafraid.”

Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, activist and Poor Magazine co-editor, talked about growing up homeless in San Francisco and poverty-related issues.

Gray-Garcia didn’t have a conventional upbringing. Her mother was an orphan who had to struggle to have a job and a house but then was fired because of her radical thoughts.

Gray-Garcia lived on the streets with her mother for 10 years, having to hide from being “criminalized” and separated from her mother.

She had to fight to survive, and today she fights for many others like her who are homeless, poor and victims of gentrification.

Garcia-Gray co-founded Poor Magazine, a magazine that gives voice to those who don’t have one, and she co-launched The Homefulness Project, a co-housing, education, microbusiness and social change project for homeless families and individuals.

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