Open Mic Night: A Forum for Self-Expression
December 8, 2021
From the cast of Franklin High School’s Mamma Mia! to a Dean College faculty member, Franklin community members from all backgrounds were able to express themselves on stage on December 8th, 2021. Mackenzie Atwood, FHS senior, had the emcee position for the first half of the night and, expectedly, provided a very entertaining experience for the audience members. She kept the audience constantly engaged through small anecdotes about the participants and subtle quips. (Notable audience members included Steve Sherlock and Dr. Sara Ahern). Atwood started the night off by highlighting her recent experience at the November school committee meeting and emphasized the importance of “speaking up for people who can’t speak up for themselves.” She later conveyed her experiences as an openly gay student through an original poem– a beautiful one, might I add. Participants in the latter portion of the night were introduced by Jamele Adams, the leader of the Franklin Freedom Team.
speaking up for people who can’t speak up for themselves.”
— Mackenzie Atwood
Poems were recited, songs were rendered, and the piano was played- but the event especially highlighted the town’s supportive community and the passion of those pushing for social change and progress. The speeches made by Jamele Adams and Meghan Whitmore, both prominent leaders in Franklin, encouraged me to interview them after the event.
An Accepting Community – Meghan Whitmore
For those of you who don’t know, Meghan Whitmore is a transgender woman who delivered a heartfelt speech on Open Mic Night about her experience transitioning and the reception she received afterward. Her moving words illustrated the importance of inclusivity, and Whitmore even stressed how touching it was to have people accept her as a woman.
The speaker highlighted the fact that she transitioned as an adult rather than the current practice of transitioning before or during puberty. The later change to her gender provides her with a fresh perspective on the trans community and an opportunity to comment on current trends in transgender awareness, prompting me to ask Whitmore to elaborate on how transitioning in today’s world compares to her experiences growing up. She answered, “Nowadays, I think a lot of people are aware that there’s a word for it and there’s support […] teachers and family members, I think everyone knows that it exists and knows that it’s real. People can go down that path if they would like to nowadays pretty early, and I think that it’s amazing for people to go through puberty the way they want to go through it.“
A new addition to the FHS School Committee, Meghan Whitmore provides LGBTQ representation to the group, enabling her to advocate for those marginalized students. Wondering what her new membership meant for both students and families of Franklin, I asked, “What changes do you intend to implement [as part of the school committee], and what suggestions have you brought up?” In response, Whitmore replied, “So there are three things that are really important to me, the diversity aspect, COVID, you know being serious about COVID and trying to eliminate it or minimize it as much as possible, and then the budget, too. So I asked to volunteer to be on the budget subcommittee within the school committee. […] I help get funding and help with the budget we have.”
Regarding the speech Whitmore gave at the Black Box, I was curious about the symbolic importance of that and the potential effects it may have had on both her and her audience. “I think that Open Mic Night is great because it just shows the support, and you know you’re not alone,” she explained, going on to expand upon the idea that “it’s a morale booster and it’s very inspiring. Mackenzie, I mean, she’s an amazing person. There are so many people in Franklin I’ve met that are just inspirational people. There’s a great group of people in this room, here.”
Love One Another, Stand for Change – Jamele Adams
Needing no introduction due to his large impact on Franklin, Jamele Adams immediately captivated his listeners when he began to recite his poem. Although he was a participant in the event, Adams also played a significant role in organizing Open Mic Night, so when I broached the idea of making it an annual show, he enthusiastically replied, “More than once a year, hopefully, this could happen once a week!“, elaborating on the fact that “the Open Mic affected everyone in this space […] Folks shared that they were absolutely moved and then at the end when people were asked to write about how they were inspired, they shared how they were inspired […] People were moved in the space. People shared their narrative because they trusted in the space, and the energy was powerful and welcoming, and warm, supportive, and filled with advocacy for love. “
Adams is also the leader of the Franklin Freedom Team – a group of advocates for inclusivity, trust, and love– so I couldn’t help but ask “What are the goals of the Freedom Team, and what is its foundation?” He responded that “the purpose of the Franklin Freedom Team is to preserve freedom through unity in the community. It came out of needing to have something in place that’s sustainable and is able to be retroactive, reactive, and proactive against hate and acts of bias. It was born almost eight years ago, and there are now six Freedom Teams […] Just recently, Walpole shared that they were going to do something as well as Medfield.”
With his experience as a black man in a predominantly white town, I wondered what Jamele Adams’ strategies were in facing the challenges posed by society. His answer? Love. “I just come from love, every time. Love is absolutely strong, powerful […] I say that I’m the love that hate can’t stop. We bring people together, and we move. We can’t deny the strength of it. I work with this statement, ‘Love how you love who you love,’ and it’s based on the foundation of love, inclusion, and trust. I invite people into conversation, not confrontation. So let’s get our energies right and rock with it, and be fearless. It’s our time, our turn. There are people that made it possible for us to be here right now by giving their lives, and if I have to, I would give my life so that we can do this,” Adams expressed.
Jamele Adams ended the night with three repetitions of the following: “One heart, one love, one life, one people, one family.” This phrase perfectly encapsulates the values of Adams. He stresses the value of love unity when fostering inclusion, hence the repetition of “one”. Obliging my request to provide further background on his motto, Adams said “Yeah, so everything you heard, I wrote that. […] At our best, we are all of that together. We are one family, at our best. We just have to get to our best. We haven’t become the best iteration of human beings, yet. But, if we work at it, the trajectory is very possible for that to happen.”