These days, a good bit of what I write about takes place at a small Oklahoma City gathering place called Urban Roots. If you ever visit there on a Tuesday night, you will know exactly why.
Urban Roots exudes love. Anyone who says Black folks can’t come together peacefully and have a good time has never been to Urban Roots. Anyone who says Blacks and Whites can’t get along has never been to Urban Roots. Anyone who says White people don’t have soul has never been to Urban Roots. And anyone who says there is never anything to do in Oklahoma City has clearly never been to Urban Roots.
I grew up in church. I went to church all the time. I was in church Tuesday night, Friday night, Sunday all day long, week-long and sometimes month-long revivals, on and on, until the break of dawn. No, really, sometimes literally until the break of dawn. I’ve heard plenty of fiery sermons and powerful singing in my life, and I’ve often enjoyed it and been impacted by it, but I have never once in my life gone to any church and experienced the love, acceptance, sense of community and even enlightenment that I experience regularly at Urban Roots. Some church folks are reading this right now, texting and talking to each other about this statement, SMH-ing on social media about the audacity and perceived blasphemy of my words, and posting passive-aggressive general warnings about the dangers of “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Urban Roots regulars are simply nodding their heads in agreement to this truth. Urban Roots isn’t trying to be church. It is simply Urban Roots. There are no cliques at Urban Roots. If you’re there, you’re part of the family, regardless of age, ethnicity, orientation, experience, giftedness or even participation. It is the “whole village” mentality personified.
This Tuesday night, there was a particular village vibe in the atmosphere. I almost feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t there.
Josiah Eking smoothly rendered two original pieces, both of which he informed the audience were unfinished (had he not told us we wouldn’t have known). Josiah has a unique signature style that is a combination of poetry, rap and singing, and he fluently alternates between all three seemingly as easily as he carries on a conversation. His delivery is always regal and never forced or contrived.
Next, I performed a poem called “Tell Me About Love” about a man confronting a preacher, looking for answers and acceptance, and being tired of church as usual. Then, by request of event coordinator David Threatt, I performed “BBBW”, my personal tribute to big beautiful Black women, which I initially rendered at Saturday night’s poetry slam, also held at Urban Roots. I’ve definitely found a new love in the form of poetry. My admiration for BBBW is nothing new at all.
Next up, local songstress, poet and stylist extraordinaire Soul Secure continued the celebration of beautiful Blackness with a piece called “Beautiful Black Man.” She hesitated at first to recite it due to the similar theme, but her offering was as different as a man differs from a woman. Then she performed another beautiful original piece called Oxygen.
Then Stacy Brown rendered an impassioned declaration of personal independence, telling an unworthy ex “If I were me,” she never would have given away key parts of herself that comprised her identity. She methodically took a verbal inventory of those parts, and how she would use them instead if she had regarded herself differently, something she clearly does now. One gets a sense that Stacy’s poetry is therapy, for her audience as well as herself.
On this night, due to three featured artists being on deck to perform, the open mic entrants were interspersed with the features. The first featured artist was Kevin Sandbloom, a soulful brother from another mother who mesmerized the audience not only with his vocals and his masterful play on the acoustic guitar, but with his storytelling as he performed two original songs both inspired by the same relationship with a woman. Both pieces were totally different though, as the first one was written at the end of his journey with his former lover and the second near the beginning. It speaks volumes about Kevin’s outlook that he saved the most uplifting for last. Next, Kevin did a totally unique cover of Sade’s “Is It a Crime” that left the audience mesmerized. Kevin Sandbloom also brought copies of his CDs, two of which I took home and will be reviewing shortly.
As open mic resumed, Obbie West told a story of being in Dallas for a poetry event and having to follow Kevin Sandbloom on stage, a fate that he would repeat on this night. Obbie told us that as a result of following such a tough act, his poem fell on deaf ears in Dallas. Such was clearly not the case at Urban Roots. His poem about domestic violence penetrated the air. Obbie’s appeal to the fairer sex is always evident based on women’s reaction, but this night it took on an even more shining quality as he stood as a symbol of protection of women and denunciation of the cowardice of abusive males unworthy to even be called men. Indeed one had the sense that any woman suffering from domestic violence could have run into West’s arms at that moment and found sanctuary. Instead he gave them keys to their own empowerment, relaying his own personal story of seeing abuse in his home as a child.
Personal experience was the order of the night. It didn’t feel like anyone was there simply to entertain. Especially not the next poet to come to the stage. Ms. T. aka Tarika Chappell told us how she lost her brother to violence in October, as well as another loved one prior to that. She decried the evils of black on black crime and the “labeling theory” which states that individuals are conditioned to behave in accordance with the terms society uses to define them. She encouraged us as a people to defy stereotypes and rise above violence against one another.
Next up was another featured act, poets Ben B (the Truth) and Giddy, all the way from Tampa, Florida. Representing the poetry team “The Misfits”, this original duo had the entire crowd engaged from the jump with their refreshing high energy style. The pair defied any possible stereotype or categorization, rattling off original works about everything from true love to marijuana, both individually and in a team piece that showcased their uncanny chemistry.
Ben B charmed the audience with a poem about the kind of love he has always longed for. Giddy, a barber by trade, let us know that she puts her heart and soul into making a difference in her client’s lives by changing their perception of themselves. In a skillful play on words, she refrained “I stand up for what I believe in every day”, both literally and symbolically as she cuts away stress, discouragement and low self esteem from her customers’ locks. Then she beatboxed like a champ, demonstrating her versatility.
Next, Robbie Carpenter aka Apocalyptic blessed the mic with a piece about love. He was down to earth and smooth in his delivery. Then continuing the night seemingly dominated by social themes, a conscious poet who simply went by Deidra hit home about the epidemic of homelessness, a clever play on the famous phrase “Houston we have a problem”, repurposed to address a more common problem often overlooked here on earth.
Then Coop, ever the Hip Hop historian, recited a Gang Starr classic, before giving a unique original piece on his educational struggles as the class clown, fueled by his emerging awareness even in his youth of the fact that history wasn’t his story at all.
Then Miss Cooki Turner did what she always does and blew us all away with her uniquely styled cover of Lauryn Hill’s Ex-Factor. Miss Cooki will be back at Urban Roots this Friday for Acoustic Soul.
Last but certainly not least, there was the final feature of the night, Oklahoma’s own Lauren Zuniga.
Lauren commanded respect from the moment she appeared. She informed us that her hometown of Poteau was home to what is billed as the “largest hill in the world” at 1999 feet, making it, as she put it, “one foot shy of a mountain.” She then somehow skilfully spun that curious bit of trivia into a creative euphemism for a conservative mask for a town struggling with real life issues.
She let us know that “sometimes you just have to explode” in terms of taking a stand and not settling for the status quo. She established at the outset that she is unapologetically feminist, and showed us in fact that “we are all feminists” – even the men – if we are concerned about basic equality and fairness. Feminism is about hating sexism, she explained. Lauren decried a culture in which women are told they “can’t compete with the boys.” She accomplished all of this through her poetry, which is anything but ordinary. Lauren Zuniga is a master poet.
Lauren next treated us to a poem written by her son. The innocent abstract stream of childlike thoughts served as an unlikely segue for the colorful monologue that would ensue. She relayed her mother’s lesson to her that “every straight girl has an Anne Heche moment.” Then she told us about her own such moment in a piece where she refrained about “the first time I made love to a woman.” One could hear a pin drop as Lauren told a beautiful, sensual, spiritual tale of undeniable love.
Finally, in her “benediction” Lauren encouraged us as artists to be passionate about our craft and know that we are making a difference in the world. We were all put here for a unique purpose.
Maybe we were in church after all.
Brian C. Scott