Excited chatter and laughter filled the Charles Johnson Theatre before students fell silent as Mwende Katwiwa took the stage to speak on what troubles them most.
Katwiwa, a 27-year-old queer Kenyan immigrant, is better known as FreeQuency. Using the pronouns they/them/their, Katwiwa has written their views on the wrongful doings of the black community in America and the LGBTQ+ community through their poetry.
They are not new to the spotlight; they were a TED speaker and a Woman of the World’s poetry champion in 2018. Being a poet, a speaker and a teacher, Katwiwa’s influence has reached thousands of people around the world.
They came with the intent to teach and guide students on the proper way to assist marginalized groups in need and to explore knowledge on black injustice through their poetry.
“I believe that we suffer from something called American Amnesia,” Katwiwa said. “It has been really jarring to me how little people know or remember the small details of these situations.”
Katwiwa performed various pieces from their book, “Becoming // Black,” as well as new unpublished pieces. Katwiwa gained the biggest response on their poem, “The 7 Deadly American Sins.”
Students in attendance snapped their fingers and stomped their feet in encouragement as Katwiwa voiced the sins of being black in America and the prejudice against the black youth by police and media.
The 7 Deadly American Sins referenced the trial of George Zimmerman and the death of Trayvon Martin as still being prominent as Katwiwa voiced their viewpoint on the injustice for black youth and the wrongful support of Zimmerman.
“So when the verdict finally came in, all I could hear were the words of the late Dr. King calling for unity and deeper understanding,” Katwiwa said in her poem. “Calling for us to not allow the deafening noise of injustice to drown out the sounds of freedom’s ring. So in honor of his legacy, please join me now in this final call … Let freedom ring.”
Katwiwa went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leaving the audience in utter silence.
Kyle Harris, SAC director of lecture, was also in silence, but knew the impact Katwiwa was able to leave. Harris attended a conference to find performers to bring to campus and was impressed by Katwiwa’s performance and invited them to campus.
“I think (they) has a lot to bring to campus through (their) work,” Harris said. “(They) is obviously very passionate about her views, and we thought (they) would be great for students to listen in on.”
One student in attendance was sophomore Ted Cooper who said he was moved by Katwiwa’s performance.
“It was really inspiring to me since I'm black at a mostly white school,” Cooper said. “It made me rethink what I let my white friends get away with when they talk to me and what they think is acceptable because of my skin color.”
Cooper said he plans to buy Katwiwa’s book and to start speaking on black discrimination and fair treatment in his friend groups.
Previous tours have taken Katwiwa around the world to places like Tanzania and Africa. But Katwiwa has recently been performing on college campuses to influence and empower students to stand for what they believe is right.
“Represent yourself. I felt underrepresented on campus when I was in school and learned that you need to represent yourself,” Katwiwa said. “We don’t get access to resources like you guys do here in school, so I would take advantage and rob the school of everything they have to offer y’all.”