A purple hue hovered above a stage as hundreds of North Texas youth gathered to have their say.
Some danced, some sang, some cried and some scrawled their names across a wall. Others recited original poems before a standing-room-only crowd at DaVerse Lounge.
Spilling from a dance floor, a young man near a drink bar fused fanning himself into his dance moves.
“It’s a beautiful place to be,” said 21-year-old Evan Bornes, who had taken the stage earlier.
Bornes, who teaches creative writing and music to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, described his music style as a combination of jazz, funk and atmospheric. As he talked, young children made crafts inside the foyer, snacked and showed off sparkly skin paintings. Outside, school buses lined the street near Life In Deep Ellum, which had donated the venue.
“Melody Memory, a seven-piece band led by Alejandro Perez Jr., serves as the house band, improvising behind the young poets and playing original tunes,” says Life In Deep Ellum’s website. “Art Love Magic provides artists, ranging from painters to potters to fire-painters to face painters to digital media artists. And they create live work and facilitate interactive stations for the teens.”
Lisa Schmidt, Center of Excellence director at Big Thought, which co-produces the event, said DaVerse Lounge takes place six times throughout the year, and about 50 youths had signed up Friday night to take the stage. Schmidt noted that there are a few rules in place for stepping up to the mic, things like no cursing, no religion, no politics and nobody older than 21.
But the guidelines didn’t detour one up-and-coming artist from pushing the boundaries.
“F the world, Trump and people who don’t believe,” he said. “I’m just trying to succeed.”
The day before, DaVerse Lounge had welcomed Republicans, Democrats, Independents and non-voters alike to the event via Facebook.
Many of the youths, Schmidt said, come from local school districts and juvenile facilities. They work on their art at school or at home before sharing it at DaVerse Lounge. Schmidt said the creative outlet is a place where the youths all get along, accept and support one another.
Shortly after taking the stage, one participant struggled through tears to recite her poem. In a matter of seconds, a peer was by her side with an arm placed firmly across her shoulders.
Another poet reflected on what life is like being a black girl seen as “not good enough.”
“All I see is pain,” she said. “Black lives this. And black lives that.”
At one point, the house drummer arose to let his drumsticks fall gracefully after a poet asked to continue reciting in a cappella. Later, Thom Browne engaged the audience in a round of him shouting “at DaVerse” and those in the audience following with “we love.”
“I don’t care how hard life hits,” Browne said. “I will not let it slap the taste of love out of my mouth.”
When Amanda Jackson took the mic, her words were encouraging. She talked about “the day before someone called you fat or said they hated you.” Jackson told the audience that she was there to always remind everyone of the days before.
“By the time [Jackson] was a senior she had won a national arts and writing award at Carnegie Hall,” said DaVerse Lounge creator Will Richey.
Richey then thanked supporters of the program, which is now in its 12th season, for helping to send Jackson and her mother to New York to accept the award.
“DaVerse Lounge is a very special place,” he said.
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According to Journeyman Ink, which was founded by Richey and is an integral part of the program, DaVerse Lounge has spring-boarded into a movement with a mentoring program and curriculum for schools and youth organizations.
Schmidt says the program, which encourages various forms of self-expression including six-word flash fiction, provides a creative space that promotes culture, ingenuity and diversity so that “all kids in Dallas have opportunities for high quality art.”
“And look at them,” she said of the hundreds of young people gathered at DaVerse Lounge. “They are all beautiful.”
For more information about DaVerse Lounge’s free, three-hour word fests, call 469-621-8922.