UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Community Center celebrates 1-year library anniversary with poetry

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Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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The Multicultural Community Center, or MCC, celebrated its library’s one-year anniversary Thursday evening with food, community and poetry.

The MCC opened its doors to the Berkeley community at 5:30 p.m. for the event. About 50 individuals attended the celebration, which featured internationally renowned poet Aja Monet, in addition to three local artists of color. These three local artists were campus senior D’mani Thomas, graduate student Alan Pelaez Lopez and poet Sentura Cruz. The event marks exactly one year after the library’s opening at its new location in the MLK Student Union on Nov. 9, 2016.

The library is a room in the MCC’s facilities on the second floor of the MLK Student Union, and it holds works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as historical archives. According to Ari Vargas, head librarian and MCC intern, the library began as a mere “closet” in MCC’s former location at the Hearst Annex.

“These are books that do not repeat forms of oppression,” Vargas, said about the collection. “They are made for and by community members. We are representing our own selves for our own people.”

The new location was fought for by students, according to Vargas. In its new location, the library provides a space for study and discourse, with enough room to expand the collection of works.

All of the recited poetry explored experiences faced by people of color, ranging from discussions of police brutality to the pain arising from undocumented status.

“I loved it,” said Siya Green, attendee and campus senior. “I liked that it was all diverse Blackness, how Black was different for each person. … It was showing the community and also their individuality.”

After the local artists’ performances, Aja Monet took the stage and shared her poems in three sets: upbringing, observations and love. Stressing the importance of poetry in activism, Monet made a point of encouraging her listeners to write, offering poetry prompts and pushing them to enact social change for minority communities.

“Make some radical choices, do some radical things,” Monet said at the end of her performance. “Y’all are the revolution, if you are ever going to see one.”

While part of the artists’ works focused on deeply personal issues of identity, much of the poetry and commentary had political undertones. Frustration with the current state of politics was at the forefront of discussion, especially given that the  library opened one day after the 2016 election.

“Black lives actually matter here,” said Kerby Lynch, a graduate student attending the event. “The university has to do a lot better. This is where they need to be, not at an Arthur Brooks panel.”

All four artists were received by the audience with snaps, occasional laughter and resounding applause.

“It was a physical representation of what this library was meant to be,” said Anisha Chemmachel, MCC library intern. “It was community and really beautiful art and people showing up as their whole selves.”

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.