The Bairnwick Women’s Center recently welcomed two-time international Grand Slam Poetry Festival champion Kai Davis.The Pinnacle Luncheon was followed by a Sewanee Monologue workshop in the evening.
According to her website, Davis is a writer, performer, and teaching artist from Philadelphia. Much of her work deals with the complex nature of power, race, gender, education, and sexuality. Providing some context for her audience, Davis explained that a few years ago, she was in the Black Studies department in a predominantly black city.
In 2016, she received bachelor’s degrees in African American Studies and English from Temple University. She has performed for TedX Philadelphia, CNN, BET, PBS, and NPR. She has won Brave New Voices in 2011, The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in 2016, and a Leeway Transformation Award in 2017. She also visits high schools and local nonprofit organizations, teaching poetry to marginalized and underserved communities.
The Mary Sue Cushman Room was filled with Sewanee students, professors, and faculty, who all sat on the edge of their seat. Snaps of understanding, head nods, and agreeing murmurs built up excitement as Davis delivered a powerful speech.
During a class in her undergraduate years, as her class discussed how black liberation and excellence would be achieved, a male professor stated, “In order for black people to be free, black women have to put their petty shit aside.” The professor in question emphasized “race first, gender second,” a hierarchy Davis could not accept. Silence briefly suffocated the room of attendees.
“As a black woman, I had some issues with that. I never walk into a room twice; I’m always black and a woman all at once,” Davis explained. This inspired her to write a piece of poetry titled “Ain’t I A Woman”, which deals with her intersecting identities. The first stanza of the poem reads: “As if MLK didn’t suck milk from a Black woman’s tit but ain’t I a b*tch?/ Ain’t I bitter?/ Ain’t I divisive by accident?/ Don’t I complicate the revolution with all my grievances?/ Ain’t I still grieving?/ Ain’t this my middle finger?/ Ain’t I finally done apologizing?”
Zahnib Kalsoom (C’20) reflected that “Davis eloquently used her wit and sense of humor to shed light on what it really means to be an educated black woman of color at a predominantly white institution.”
Davis was recently invited to speak at an event made to bring together the mothers of daughters who were murdered due to police violence. “It was so many names that I did not know,” she admitted. “Part of it was because as a black woman, you get tired of being confronted by your oppression. It’s deciding to not deal with hearing the news just to be able to get through the day.” She proceeded to perform another original piece titled “Apathy is Guilt.”
Brandon Iracks-Edelin (C’18) voiced his thoughts on the event: “Her poetry was really compelling and spoke to me. She was able to capture the audience and put us in her shoes just to get a taste of her experience.”
Davis left her audience with this sentiment: “I think that it’s really important, now more than ever, for people to be open to being challenged through any means necessary – through art, through writing, in their classrooms – I think it’s time to always be reevaluating what we’re thinking and using that to become better people.”