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The Black Dot Collective's BeatsFlowsVideos Young Emcees Open Mic

Almost hidden next to a pool hall on 23rd Avenue in East Oakland, the Black Dot Cafe would be easy to miss if not for the ten or fifteen young MCs from the Black Dot Collective's BeatsFlowsVideos class waiting for a shot at the microphone.

Inside the cozy space, Marcel Diallo, founder of the collective of Black artists known as the Black Dot, is moving around speakers and chairs at a frantic pace while talking about the impetus behind the creation of such a space in the community.

Diallo has been involved in the Bay area arts scene for years. He was the host of the Rhyme Rituals at the Jahvah House, one of the first poetry readings to challenge poets to step away from memorized pieces and using the printed page towards more improvisational material, before opening up a space for the Black Dot Collective.

After several thriving years, Diallo and the Black Dot faced something similar to what many starving artists in the Bay have struggled with -- rising rent rates and the resulting change in the community.

When Black Dot Collective was forced out of their space, the poetry sessions dwindled into small workshops where participants were able to work on pieces but had nowhere to showcase them. Now, with a brand-new space, the stage is up and running again.

The space Diallo has helped to create is a spot with a feel like you're hanging out in a poet's or musician's living room, with folks hanging out on a comfortable couch near the stage. Hanging on the wall are art pieces like a framed black-and-white photograph portraying African American boys scaling a fence entitled "After the Revolt: 1st Watts Festival," as well as a large red-and-black mural with the words "1st Class Suicide."

Political posters, such as a statement by Black Americans against the United States' support of Israel's Zionist policy, are in full display as well as spoken word CDs and poetry chapbooks by activist artists such as Amiri Baraka and Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets.

As soon as the sound system is ready to go, Joshua Whitaker, of the hip-hop group Living Legends and one of the teachers for the Beats class, grabs the mic and starts flowing over beats. For the next few hours, Black Dot Cafe is host to a group of talented MCs who pass the mic amongst each other while speaking on what it's like to live in their neighborhoods.

Most of the youth involved in the program are 15 to 20 years old, male and from the Black Dot's neighborhood. A core group of 15 poets, with drop-ins, shows up weekly to practice free styling, songwriting and producing beats.

As evidenced by the nodding heads in the room, Black Dot is a tight-knit group that knows how to improvise and work an audience. It's almost like a show rather than an open mic, with none of the fumbling with papers or pauses while poets switch off at other open mics. The only drawback is that if you want to get on the mic, you need to be very proactive and grab it.

D-Iago, 17 years old, has been going to the Beats class for the past two years. He's been an MC for the last ten years and values Thursday nights as a time to practice performing so he can keep his material sharp.

At the beginning of the night, Whitaker puts up this challenge: If it's your last $5 in your pocket, would you buy the song or a sandwich? For D-Iago, it's the song.

BeatsFlowsVideos Young Emcees Open Mic
Black Dot Café

1431 23rd Ave. (@ International), 510.532.8559
[email protected]
Every Thursday @ 7 pm
$5