TedxRutgers starts space for creative storytelling


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Photo by Elizabeth Reynes |

Storytelling shapes us into who we are — we tell stories to our family and friends, to mere strangers and even to ourselves as a way to convey emotion, explain ideas and give valuable lessons.

As storytelling is a crucial part of our everyday lives, TEDxRutgers held its first-ever "Creative Storytelling Open Mic" night on Wednesday, April 5, where Rutgers students were free to let their voices be heard.

Although known for its annual TEDx Conference and public speaking contests, Wednesday’s open mic night was the organization’s first dabble in creative performance.

Held at the Livingston Student Center in collaboration with the Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective, the non-profit aimed to explore the art of storytelling through poetry, song, personal narrative, monologue and beyond.

With an initially slow turnout, Mason Gross School of the Arts student Marcus Raye Perez woke the crowd with his spoken word poem “I Met God, She’s Black,” inspired by a T-shirt donning the same phrase. The powerful piece served as an ode to minorities and marginalized people who are often overlooked and seldom found holy or influential. Above all, Perez reminded the audience that there is something spiritual in all of us with a thoughtful closing prose perfect for the occasion. 

“I met God in the mirror and he reminded me that this is our story to tell, and you could feast on a buffet of Bible verses until the day you die, and still not own the handbook on how to get to heaven.” Perez’s piece was met with high praise and set the tone for a passionate and energetic night.

Most stories of the night were told in the forms of spoken word poetry and music, with several a capella rap performances and honest pieces written on iPhone notes just hours before the event.

Made up of a group of young college students, performances were relatable and full of emotion, covering topics such as relationships, sex, depression, addiction and loss.

Rutgers senior and Verbal Mayhem regular Lindsay Michelle was in attendance, where she shared five of her favorite poems, including a crowd favorite about her grandma.

Michelle told her story of losing a loved one to dementia and the pain of watching someone’s memory deteriorate, a topic many people can resonate with. “I’m 19, and soon I will forget everyone who used to mean the world to me,” Michelle said, referring to dementia that runs through her family tree. “Do you understand why I cry when I forget where I’ve put my keys?”

While Michelle had a clear knack for performing her work, the night had a welcoming, casual vibe where everyone felt comfortable to express themselves.

Poetry newcomer Jerm Gonzalo took the stage to share two poems about acceptance and self-doubt, while sophomore Sade Ford recited a lively piece spoken through the voice of an alter ego.

Performers often read from the top of their heads and the back of their hands, and when a verse was forgotten or a word was stuttered, no one was embarrassed to admit the mix-up and check their phones for a refresher.

Just as the night felt like it was coming to an end, Rutgers Professor Deepak Paramanand made a surprise appearance to tell an encouraging story about the success that can come out of imperfections and failure.

Once an international student from India at Rutgers, Paramanand reflected on a college experience that still sticks with him today. Being raised by a family who emphasized the importance of achieving high marks, almost failing an exam was a traumatic moment for him. Although a studious and dedicated student, the fact that he was never the best in his class affected his self-esteem permanently. Ironically, 15 years later, his wife’s professor suggested he take up teaching.

Starting in September, Paramanand will become a full-time professor at Rutgers University.

With this, Paramanand stressed that hard work and passion means more than a perfect score in the long run, leaving a positive message for all of the college students in the audience.

With a successful turnout and a show that lasted for almost three hours, the TEDxRutgers Open Mic proved to be a great artistic addition to the Rutgers community.

As the night became a space for total strangers to connect emotionally and creatively, the Creative Storytelling event surely made a big school feel small.


Clarissa Gordon


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