Open Mic in Harlem (Sophie)


            Friday Night Mic with Ronnie on 449 Lenox Ave. in Harlem, NY was, hands down, the most hospitable open mic I have ever attended. No cover combined with complementary sangria, soda and appetizers made my first time at this community show that much more homey. The set up of this venue was a little strange: a hallway full of tables and chair with a stage facing the bar as opposed to the audience. A drum set and piano occupied most of the stage’s space and I was apprehensive about the ability the performer would have connecting with the audience. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how intimate this small space became. The performer was literally right in front of the audience’s faces and had the ability to step off the stage and become even more personal with the congregation. This night was full of poetry, hip-hop, and song and packed to the brim with beauty.

            With the recent verdict of Sean Bell released, the community was enraged. Young women, old neighborhood mother figures and Ronnie himself read their poetry addressing this issue. The concept of black pride was a continually surfacing topic but by the end of the night, I felt it had become more than that. I felt that it has turned into human pride and that many people in the community felt that those on the outside no longer considered the black community human. “Who’s next? It could be any of us,” was a common question asked and I feel as though this group was trying to come together in order to not lose hope. 

            The first performer to really take my breath away was a young man with a heavenly voice. The stereo wasn’t working so he had to perform his original song a capella. As soon as he opened his mouth I found myself bobbing my head and clapping my hands to his love song. But, I was not the only one: I looked around to see most people singing and clapping along with the proudest looks on their faces, and soon realized that this performer was the baby of the group. This young man couldn’t have weighed more than 120 lbs. and when his vibrato seemed to echo for eternity, I was, to say the least, taken back. I couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant way to kick off the night.

            A woman named Wordage soon after took the stage and performed some unconventional spoken word with very, very powerful messages. She spoke of the determents of gang banging and how it disrupts the solitude of her neighborhood and community. She poetically described scenes of boys protecting their block, turning into men doing nothing more with their lives than protecting their block. She begged her brothers to step up and overcome the pressures of the ghetto and become the men she knew they could be. The poem absolutely hit a soft spot in some of the young Harlem men attending the open mic and sent a wave on contemplation rippling through the venue. Her sensual rhythm complemented the seriousness of her topic and her delivery was powerfully heartfelt.

            The sense of community this spot exuded was overwhelming at some points. Especially when I was called to stage and everyone obviously knew it was my first time, because they had never seen me. The host Ronnie kept me on stage after my performance and asked me a few questions, inducting me into the family gathered in this small room. This was a community, a family, and I was the newest member, accepted without question.

            This was not the most talented open mic I have attended, but it was one of the most entertaining and soul warming. I have never felt more at home than I did in that room of complete strangers and deeply respect the developed security, and am proud to be the newest member.


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