MLK poetry slam inspires students at UNL

Story and photos by Miranda Milovich, NewsNetNebraska

‘Monday marked what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 85th birthday. In honor of his legacy, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln held a poetry slam and open mic night Wednesday to encourage discussion of race and equality.

UNL sophomore Dani Jones performs at the MLK poetry slam and open mic night. Jones won second place in the poetry competition Wednesday night.

A Long Way to Go

Poems were judged on delivery, but also on their connection to King and his dream of human rights for all.

Even 45 years after his assassination, King’s dream has not been fully achieved. According to a 2013 Pew Research study on social and demographic trends, black households earn 59 percent of what white households earn. Fewer than half of Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality since King’s famous speech in 1963.

“We have a lot of work to do still, on campus especially,” said Elise Polly, a junior from McCook who was on the committee that helped plan UNL’s MLK Week events, including Wednesday night’s poetry slam. “Poetry is a good way to express how you feel about equality and discrimination. I hope this event sparks a conversation and gets people thinking about how they treat others.” 

 A South African Perspective

Ten high school and college students performed original poetry at the slam in front of about 150 students, teachers and other members of the community. 

One student, Amo Manganyi, is from South Africa, a country torn by the lingering effects of aparteid.  He’s at UNL to participate in a U.S. State Department civic engagement program. Initially, Manganyi said he didn’t plan to compete. He surprised himself though, and audience members by removing his socks and shoes before stepping on the stage to perform his poem. At night’s end, Manganyi had won the Open Mic Night grand prize: an Apple iPad.

Nigel Babvu, Zukiswa White, Amo Manganyi and Pride Kufakwedeke celebrate after Manganyi’s win Wednesday night. All are visiting students from Africa who are participants in a U.S. State Department civic engagement program.

“I am so humbled by what people say,” Manganyi said about all the support he received after winning. “Really it’s a great honor.”

DeWayne Taylor, a sophomore from St. Louis, showed off his beat boxing skills during the open mic session after the slam. Taylor said he was inspired by the poems he heard Wednesday night.

“Poetry slams inspire and motivate me because they are a great way to see other people really showing their passion,” Taylor said. ” I make noises to show my passion and when I can hear people’s words and I can tell how much thought someone has put into how a line is crafted the vibe is just dope.”

What It’s Like in Lincoln

Taylor said he believes the U.S. still has room for improvement when it comes to human rights and equality and that he feels far less singled out for his skin color while living in Lincoln as opposed to his hometown of St. Louis.

Sophomore DeWayne Taylor beat boxes during the open mic session after the poetry slam on Wednesday night.


Nine out of 10 Nebraskans are white according to the 2010 census. Only about 2.5 percent of UNL’s student body is African American.  Organizers of the MLK Week poetry slam hope the event shows that young people in Lincoln aren’t giving up on King’s dream any time soon.


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