Every time I leave a Man Repeller community event, I feel a little bit fuller. Like the thirstiest cells in my body have been quenched with the kind of human connection that goes deeper than “hello” or “it’s so cold out, huh?” Like the stories we push out into the void of the internet aren’t being pushed into a void as much as they are being cupped in someone’s hands. Last night, though, when I sat down in an almost-empty subway car after our first but hopefully not last open mic night with AG, I felt different than just “fuller.” I felt over-the-brim.
It couldn’t have been a more fitting response to the theme of the evening: More Than. This sentiment was the sole prompt given to T. Wise, Meghan Nesmith and Djali Cepeda-Brown, the three writers who volunteered to kick things off. After an introduction from professional emcee Amelia Diamond (who asked the audience to wiggle enthusiastically while we clapped, naturally), T shared his birth story and how he got his name. For the five minutes or so that he spoke, a stillness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced fell over the room, as if everyone was making the conscious decision to breathe a little more softly. We didn’t want to miss a word.
Meghan followed, holding a handful of notecards but talking mostly from the heart, recounting how difficult it is to live inside a female body when that is so often the only thing you’re measured by.
Djali took the mic next. Choosing to speak extemporaneously instead of preparing something in advance, she wove her personal journey to accepting her hyphenated identity into a larger conversation about race, the African diaspora and AfroLatinidad culture. Murmurs and nods rippled through the audience. It was clear that others heard themselves in her words, too.
Crystal, Man Repeller’s own Operations Manager (and the production guru who helped made this whole event happen), read a piece she wrote that was part story, part poetry — a love letter to herself and the woman she loves. It was also the first time she publicly called herself a storyteller — it’s clear she has a calling.
When she was done, the opportunity to take the mic was opened up to all attendees. Mila Myles leapt up to take her place, making the crowd belly-laugh with her account of going to a gay bar with her mom as a teen. Then came Akiea Gross, who shared her reasons behind quitting her job as a kindergarten teacher, and how she grappled with the new versions of herself that were able to shine brighter as a result. Last but not least, Victoria White-Mason read a piece she wrote about her experience at law school, confronting searing truths about race and privilege.
My descriptions aren’t doing these voices or these stories justice, but I still feel it: over-the-brim. Flush with the words of women and men who had the courage to see themselves as more than, and speak that into the world. Click through the slideshow above for a more in-depth look inside a very special evening, and check out everyone’s author pages/Instagrams to learn more about them.
Photos by Bridget Badore.