Modern day Maya Angelou hosts open mic night

Story by Lauren Lewis | Copy Editor, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Broadcast Reporter

In celebration of both her 20th birthday and the release of her first publication, Colorado Springs, Colo., junior Janita Matoke hosted an open-mic night in the North Village Community Center on Sunday night. A cozy setting and dim lights directed attendees’ attention toward the stage, lit just enough to reveal the performers, consisting of poets, singers and rappers.

Matoke released a book of poems on the same day of her birthday and the event she lightheartedly called “The Nita-Nita Show.” The anthology, “When It’s All Said and Done,” was inspired by three particular motifs.

“To me, ‘When it’s All Said and Done’ means at the end of the day, everything’s going to be OK,” Matoke said. “My book has three specific themes: Love, social injustice and, sort of, hope, and so when it’s all said and done, you’re gonna find love; when it’s all said and done, there is hope; when it’s all said and done, there will be justice.”

Though writing a book has always been on her list of goals, Matoke did not foresee poetry included in that list.

“Originally, I wrote, about a year ago before I started my sophomore year, like a goal list, just to have a rough draft of a book done by the end of this year, and I started writing a book and I just wasn’t really feeling it,” Matoke said.

However, while attending Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans as part of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Exchange Program, she was surprised by a change in plans. She found inspiration in nearly every moment there and recorded her poems in a notebook. It didn’t take her long to realize that a collection of these poems would meet her goal.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I never knew exactly how it was gjoing to get done,” Matoke said.

When it comes to her achievements, Matoke attributes all of her success to God.

“Just seeing how, like if you’re patient, or if you just like allow God to move in your life, things can happen,” Matoke said.

Impacting the lives of others is important to the “modern-day Maya Angelou,” as some at the event referred to her. That was why the open mic night was important to her — so artists could share and possibly benefit those in the crowd. She encouraged all who had a voice to be heard to participate.

“Sometimes, we let what we think is insufficient about us or where we come from, our backgrounds, or anything that society deems wrong … hinder us from being the greatest versions of us, because we think, ‘Oh, we can’t do that,’ but you can really help others,” Matoke said.

Opportunities like the one presented on Sunday night are not easy to find around Waco. Poets and songwriters/singers on Baylor’s campus are aware of this dynamic and tune into related events that empower the voice of the artist. Even Alumnus Reggie Singletary, who graduated from Baylor last spring, came back for the event.

“Janita specifically asked me to [come] after hearing me last perform a year-and-a-half ago,” Singletary said. “I had been looking for avenues to work toward doing it again, because it often takes pressure for me to actually get a poem done and then get into a rhythm of fully doing it again. But yeah, there’s not many spaces and I get to explore a side of myself that most people don’t get to see, so I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

At the end of the performances, Janita asked everyone in the audience to pull out their phones and go to the “notes” section. She asked that everyone write down something they wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. She then suggested that each person screenshot that goal and keep it as a screensaver, to see it every day and work toward it becoming fulfilled. In the end, much of her imagination comes from wanting to help others.

“I think if you’re the type of person who’s trying to make a difference in every single person … just know what you do is intentional and what you do has meaning and power,” Matoke said. “It’s not really a goal about how many, but it’s a goal to live your life in an intentional way,” Matoke said.