Every other Wednesday night at 16 West, truths are served up. The spoken word night, Soul Sessions, offers community members 5 minutes of stage time in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. There is little room for negativity in a space meant to bridge.
“We learn from each other’s words,” says organizer Bryan Hancock, “and those words connect us.”
Hancock, who performs hip hop as Harvest Blaque, sees a rapt audience as critical to each performance. “By listening – trying to relate – we better understand our differences and our similarities. But we have to go deep. You see surface responses to difference all around us. People unfriend each other in social media when they disagree. They’re more focused on their own perspective than trying to understand what the other person is really saying. There’s no time to build trust.”
Hancock emphasizes an alternative at Soul Sessions. “My mother taught me to get to know people, to ask them questions, understand them. With Soul Sessions, I’m trying to bring some of my house to this space. It’s art for action. The poems can help us empathize, and the action might be as simple as standing up for each other, lifting each other up.
“We’ve been going for three years now, and a team – including the audience – makes it happen,” says Hancock. “It takes a lot for people to come out. We don’t take their presence for granted.”
Come out for the next Soul Sessions. It’s Wednesday, April 26 at 8 PM at 16 West, (16 Church Street, SW, Roanoke). Listen to the poems, and you might find yourself onstage at a future Soul Sessions sharing your own truth. That’s what happened to one participant who listened for a year before offering her own original material. “It was beautiful,” says Hancock. “That’s how it works. We each bring a piece, and together we watch things blossom. It adds up to something much more than what we offer as individuals.”