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Finding their spotlight

Student group Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater gives students a platform to perform poetry while finding their voices on campus.

A person performing on stage.
Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater hosted performances at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on Feb. 16. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Since 1979, the Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater has provided a real and metaphorical stage for Carolina students to express themselves and find a community on campus.

Originally founded under the Black Student Movement, Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater provides a platform for students of color to write and perform among those who have similar experiences.

“What particularly attracted me to Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater was its historical role on campus,” says Keena White, a senior communications major. “We still hold true to the founding principles of the Black Student Movement and write to advocate for our own experiences and in support of others.”

The group, which performs a show each semester in addition to hosting campus and community outreach events, is an outlet for poets hoping to one day publish their work or those who simply want to express themselves in an open forum.

“I write from a place of pulling from the world and filtering my experiences through it,” Kiara Garcia, a junior computer science major, says. “We can write to heal and put some of that pain or confusion on paper. That trauma can become something to produce and become art, but also just a way to heal oneself.”

A person performing on stage.

(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The breadth of the personal experiences of the student poets is reflected in the content each chooses to ruminate on.

“I find myself looking towards religion, especially the practices that my parents have passed down to me, through the cultural lens as well,” says junior political science and global studies major Lizabeth Bamgboye. “I’m a very proud Nigerian American. When I think about my family, I remember the hard conversations I’ve had with my mother about pain, but also the beautiful moments when we’re making a meal that her mother taught her and my grandmother’s mother taught her.”

The group also works on campus and in the wider community to provide educational and artistic opportunities to after-school programs, local businesses and fundraising opportunities.

“I think a lot of people believe their work needs to be perfect to be shared or enjoyed, but everyone’s words and thoughts are valuable,” Bamgboye says.

The group’s more veteran poets hope that future members of Ebony Readers/Onyx Theater continue the group’s long-held traditions and build on the work in the community they revived post-pandemic.

“Kiara and I came to Carolina during the pandemic and found some great friends here, and now we get to pass these traditions down next year,” Bamgboye says. “I’m excited to see how much more they will grow and continue to find their voice.”