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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student


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Sigma Theta Nu Open Mic amplifies Black voices and mental health


Sophomore Jade Carless performing a poem. (Robert Nguyen / TKS)

Sophomore Jade Carless performing a poem. (Robert Nguyen / TKS)

In conversation with Madison Sparks, co-president of Sigma Theta Nu, about her new sorority’s first in-person event and philanthropic goals, as well as inspiration found in poetry. 

Knox’s first Black sorority held their first in-person event, a Black History Open Mic Night, during the reading days before winter term finals in collaboration with WVKC campus radio. Co-presidents and co-founders of Sigma Theta Nu sorority, sophomores Madison Sparks and Jade Carless, opened the event by echoing the words of poet Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” For Sparks, poetry is a powerful tool for coping with hardship and sharing experiences. The two presidents led the night performing their own work, as well as asking the audience to close their eyes while playing spoken word from the internet about mental health. 

“The poems that me and Jade performed and that we had played [were] mental health based. Whether it was someone feeling bad about their mental health or someone just trying to survive and deal with it and work with it everyday or just feeling good about themselves… a lot of times people think mental health is always bad,” said Sparks. “Mental health is something that we’re always working with whether we’re feeling extremely excited and happy or feeling extremely depressed.” 

Being the founding chapter of Sigma Theta Nu, the philanthropic interests of the sorority revolve around advocating for mental wellbeing, especially for youth in the Black community. In the future they hope to work with the schools in these communities to give young people tools that are accessible to everyone to process and understand their own feelings. Sparks addressed that often the only outlets provided by schools are sports and art, which are often underfunded programs that not every child has an interest in. The founders are inspired to take on this work by their own experiences navigating the world as BIPOC. During the reading, Sparks performed a poem written by Carless called “Wanting To Become More” that was inspired by emotional hardships they encountered in high school. 

“[Jade was] feeling one way, and people are telling them they were feeling something different, so they didn’t really know how to truly believe how they were feeling, especially because how people of color handle things is just like okay, you’re going through something? You know, persevere, move on, next,” said Sparks. “…Sometimes you actually have to sit in that moment and think and analyze, okay, what is going on?”

Sparks also performed her own work, a poem from her Black Arts class final called “Black is.”

To create the poem, she looked at interviews and music from ten Black women in the music industry, who she considers to be underrated, where they talk about their experiences being Black. She then compiled common themes and embodied them in phrases beginning with “Black is” with a recurring descriptive word being “loud.”

“A phrase I kept restating in that first poem was ‘Black is Loud,’ because with Black women, when we are speaking up against the issues and experiences and things that we face, we get called loud and different things that can be very derogatory,” said Sparks. “So I use that word, and I make it into something positive and showing like, okay, if I’m loud, Imma be loud in this way, Imma be loud in a positive light and I can be loud in a negative light. I can be loud in whatever way I feel fits.”

Due to its nature, the event was open to audience participation. Along with Sparks and Carless, two other students signed up before or during the event to perform. Co-president Carless had a lot of experience with spoken word, especially through past participation in the Chicago based youth poetry slam “Louder than a Bomb.” With this background as well as inspiration and support from WVKC, who had hosted a Lip Sync Battle a few weeks prior, they felt an open mic night would be an ideal event to host. Sigma Theta Nu regularly hosts Sigma Circles online, where they welcome others to have a dialogue about mental wellness in the context of relevant topics, such as heartbreak and healthy relationships around Valentine’s Day. Though open mics are not one of their recurring events, they hope to host more in the future. 

“With Jade having a bigger background of poetry and open mic and doing different competitions, [an open mic night] was just something that was also fun but easier to do that could also tackle on our mission statement, tackle on our philanthropy work and meet all of our goals.”

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