Photo: Jaye Sant

If the mic were open, what would you say? For the many underground poets, singers, rappers and comedians struggling to find spaces to showcase and workshop their talents, poet, performer and community activist Dabriel Fulton has created the Mic Is Open, an inclusive and inspiring forum for those who often go unheard. Says Fulton, via her publicist:

The Mic Is Open was born because, truthfully, I wanted to create a platform for people like me—artists, poets, musicians—to be able to come together in unity and express themselves. ... We always make sure that the Mic Is Open is somewhere anyone could feel comfortable with sharing the truth of who they are.

The mission to create “safe spaces” is a personal one for Fulton, who struggled with stage fright as a young poet in her native Baltimore. Later, as a student at a predominantly white college in New York City, she quickly identified the specific need for black and Latino students to have the space to speak on their issues openly and safely, prompting her to found a black-and-Latino student organization on campus.

At the same time, Fulton was developing her own career as a spoken-word poet and performer and beginning to host poetry showcases, attracting sold-out crowds and building the confidence to produce her own events. Once again, she was aware of the unique need of artists of color and/or LGBTQ artists to have forums to express themselves freely and without judgment.

Dabriel Fulton
Photo: Jaye Sant

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Fulton founded the Mic Is Open to answer that need and to provide an inclusive platform that heavily features and supports traditionally marginalized voices. It now functions as a monthly New York City talent showcase with pop-ups in Baltimore, Atlanta and Los Angeles, but Fulton is hoping to spread the love even further. “I want to keep creating these safe spaces all around the world. ... I want to bring communities together so we are stronger as a collective,” she says.

This Saturday, April 21, the Mic Is Open collective will bring its talents to the stage in honor of National Poetry Month with “Pancakes and Poetry,” donating a portion of its ticket sales to the New York City-based arts education organization Urban Arts Partnership. The event’s lineup will include spoken-word poets Olivia Hall, Derrick Hayes and Kiet Tai Cao, singers Francesca Duncan and Kid Lit, and rapper Nadirah Shakur.

Speaking on the affiliation with Urban Arts Partnership, Fulton feels its mission is very close to her own:

The Mic Is Open is becoming more than just a showcase, but a community. And we have to take care of our community and support kids in their artistic endeavors. ...

I believe it’s necessary for children to have outlets outside of the classroom and out of their home to express themselves. Sometimes kids don’t feel as comfortable speaking to their parents, but maybe feel comfortable expressing through art, writing, choir or theater. A lot of people unite through music—it creates joy; joy sparks empathy and confidence.

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Joy is exactly what Fulton hopes to bring to the audiences of the Mic Is Open, along with empathy, acceptance and honesty:

I hope that people leave our showcase feeling fulfilled and with open minds. This is a safe space for all walks of life to express themselves creatively. It’s not just about the art; it’s about exchanging truth and love. ... The Mic Is Open movement is authentic and it’s always about allowing the audience to see and feel the vulnerability of our artists.

Most of all, she hopes the impact of the Mic Is Open is a healing balm in what she calls “divisive times.” As the platform grows, Fulton, who boasts an impressive performance résumé of her own, aspires to bring poetry further into the mainstream, lauding the work of contemporary talents like Rudy Francisco, Neil Hilborn, Ebony Stewart and Lakota Fae. She tells The Glow Up:

Poetry has been and will always be the heartbeat of what we do at the Mic Is Open ... but I do feel as young people, [we] are reinvigorating it in a new way. There are so many outlets now to express your work, share how you feel and do so through poetry. We are seeing young poets like Warsan Shire be the words behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and poets like Rupi Kaur are speaking to millennial and Gen Z directly. Right now we are a world being broken open, and we’re rediscovering how to cope through art again.

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The Glow Up tip: “Pancakes & Poetry” takes place Saturday, April 21, at the Mic Is Open Gallery (38 W. 39th St., Third Floor, New York, NY, 10018) from 12-3 p.m. EDT. To learn more about the Mic Is Open, visit its website.