Expressions of You provides an open stage and a refuge

Mar 21, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Among the audience are faces of almond-ivory, magenta-yellow, ripened rose, cobalt and painted browns. It’s a diverse crowd. The room darkens and the scent of flowered jasmine and spiced cinnamon lingers.
Everyone is waiting, while a shaman, the first poet of the night, stands below a dim light. He furrows his eyebrows. His body rocks. His palms grasp absent air. A man sitting on a nearby windowsill plays the Mali djembe drum. The beat falls and rises.

This evening is spoken-word open-mic night, and everyone in Expressions of You Coffeehouse & Gallery is encouraged to take the stage. Spoken word is held every Saturday and typically attracts an artistic crowd of 25 or more people. Rehearsed or performing free-style, these poets, singers and rappers line up to sign the performance list and wait their turn to deliver profound messages on controversial topics from politics to love, from spirituality to ignorance.

Many sip from steaming mugs of coffee and pick at sandwiches or desserts while waiting to pontificate in front of the attentive masses.

“No pain, no gain, is our secret. No pain, no gain, is our secret. No pain, no gain, is our secret. Burn my church, and I’ll get stronger …” said jazz-poet/spoken-word host Michael Bishop, a recovering alcoholic/cocaine addict.
After he has spoken, the audience responds with sighs, head shaking and tears.

Expressions of You, founded by James and Camille Linton, is a small, family-owned business in the West End. The Lintons have been holding spoken-word nights for more than three years at the corner of 18th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. But James Linton says the entrepreneurial process isn’t easy.
“The bank told us that we had to sell liquor, lotteries and cigarettes in order for them to invest into our business,” he said.

“It’s through Christianity and a mission that Expressions of You is attempting to change lives by providing hope and fulfilling needs that can’t be made elsewhere,” he added. That change is touching individual lives throughout all classes of society through weekly outreach programs and events, including the Boys and Men Program, Soul Flow (women’s fellowship), Bible study, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and educational seminars. That’s just a few.

It’s a refuge for recovering addicts who’ve battled reality through substance, domestic and/or sexual abuse, individuals — homeless, runaways, prostitutes — who are trying to escape their harsh realities of creviced, crack-pipe dreams accented by brittle and shivering bones.

“People have told me that my business inspired them to change their lives,” James said. “When I hear their gratitude, it lets me know that we are doing something right; that we are changing lives.”
After each brave poet has taken a turn, the audience chooses one to recite free-style on themes like gang activity, abuse, poverty, relationships and slavery. Whoever delivers the most eloquent performance is crowned Poet of Week. After the decrescendo of applause, the clock strikes 3 a.m. and everyone goes their separate ways.

The Expressions of You clientele includes a broad range of individuals from all classes, education levels, skin colors and economic situations. Some are local. Others travel from as far as Chicago, New York and California for these evenings. Sometimes there is even a famous face in the no-frills atmosphere. Mike Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., comedian Spike Davis and recording artist Lyfe Jennings have all stopped in. Most recently, author and Princeton University professor Cornel West, who was in Louisville for another event, dropped in for the Saturday evening open-mic session.

“Speak truth to power and speak truth to the powerless,” West implored, peering through his rectangular black-rim glasses to a surprised and lucky audience. His tailor-made tux pressed to perfection, his arms comfortably at his sides, he left the listeners with something to ponder: “The lack of voice is the lack of democracy.” Which is perhaps another way of saying, Expressions of You.