Spoken Word Artist and Visiting Lecturer Focuses on Racism, Awareness

The fiery rhymes of Bryonn R. Bain, spoken word artist and visiting lecturer, filled the Student Organization Center at Hilles on Thursday night at a performance co-sponsored by the Harvard Progressive Jewish Alliance and Harvard College Speak Out Loud.

Bain, a graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law School, focused on “the prison industrial complex,” a term used to describe the burgeoning inmate population in the United States and the impact of the prison on the African American community,

“Every black man with sagging pants ain’t a criminal,” said Bain, “despite subliminal media messages to the contrary.”

In the first of two spoken word performances last night, Bain criticized those who claim that racism is no longer a problem, telling those people to “check the Thirteenth Amendment; slavery wasn’t abolished, it was just polished.”

As a second-year student at Harvard Law School in 1999, Bain was wrongfully arrested for vandalism outside a New York club. The police threw him against the wall and questioned his law school background, he said.

“The whole process is just dehumanizing,” said Bain, whose essay on his experience, entitled “Walking While Black,” was published in the Village Voice.

“I have all the degrees that the President has, plus one,” Bain said. “He ended up in the White House and I ended up in the jailhouse. How did this happen?”

The experience inspired Bain to educate young students about prison reform and to create a Columbia class called “Youth Voices on Lockdown” in 2003. The class, whose title was eventually changed to “Lyrics on Lockdown,” has been taught at New York University and The New School. Students in the classes spend part of the semester visiting a corrective facility.

Bain is currently teaching a course at Harvard called “Hip Hop and the Spoken Word.”

In addition to discussing mass incarceration and racism, Bain covered topics as varied as America’s fading spirituality and the death of creativity at the hour-long event.

The audience expressed their admiration of Bain through laughter, applause, and snaps at particularly smooth lines.

“I thought it was quite powerful,” said Daniel J. Solomon ’16. “Anytime you connect politics to art, it makes it that much more potent.”

Bain’s new book, “The Ugly Side of Beautiful: Rethinking Race and Prisons in America,” will be published next week.

Bain ended his performance with a call for change.

“If we can use our privilege to raise awareness about these issues,” Bain said, “we have not only an opportunity but an obligation to do that in some way.”


Recommended Articles

Women's Volleyball Sweeps River Hawks in Strong Performance
The last time the Harvard women’s volleyball team faced off against UMass Lowell, not a single member of Wednesday’s team had even been born. But just like the last time the Crimson played the River Hawks, Harvard emerged dominant.
Women's Volleyball Sweeps Dartmouth, Earns Sixth Win of the Season
The Harvard women’s volleyball team (6-4) dominated Dartmouth (7-5) in almost all facets of Friday’s match en route to a 3-0 sweep. The second set, which finished with a final score of 25-21, proved to be the only tight frame of the day, as the Crimson decidedly took the first and final sets. However, the Big Green did have momentum at the beginning of the contest, when it jumped out to an early lead. Harvard eventually fought back with a run of its own, earning it the set, 25-16.
Women's Volleyball Drops Princeton in Straight Sets
In the past four years, the Harvard women’s volleyball team has only beaten Princeton twice. The first was a 3-0 sweep in Princeton, N.J. on Oct. 19 and the second was on Friday night at the Malkin Athletic Center, again in straight sets. The win was Harvard’s sixth straight at home.
Columbia Upsets Women's Volleyball
The Lions, however, had different plans. Despite its record, Columbia (6-16, 4-9 Ivy) dominated the game, taking advantage of the Crimson’s sloppy play to win the match in four sets.
Women's Volleyball Season Recap
Only a year after finishing in the bottom half of the Ivy League, the Harvard women’s volleyball team climbed the Ancient Eight rankings in its 2013 campaign, claiming second place in conference play.
Women's Volleyball Takes Two of Three at Benson's Hospitality Invitational