Last Wednesday, UTM’s ICCIT Council hosted their second annual “ScarLit Slam.” The evening featured slam poetry that sought to raise awareness about mental health. We gathered in the Faculty Club Room on the second floor of the Davis Building. Strings of yellow lights scattered over a Persian rug, creating a cozy, makeshift stage. Paintings by UTM students leaned on chairs. They reflected the internal and external struggles of mental health, capturing the struggles of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt.

Anton Mykytenko, the public relations director of ICCIT Council, was the MC for the event. “This night is to raise awareness for mental health,” Mykytenko said. “It’s to give performers a chance to be one with their audience and channel emotion through their pieces.”

Nancie Jona, a fourth-year sociology and English student, was the first of eight performers. She started off with her piece, “Twinkle, Twinkle Big Moon.” In this poem, Jona comes to terms with her role as the trusty sidekick to the star of the show, saying she would rather be the moon than any star. She then followed with her piece “Demi,” a poem about sexuality and becoming comfortable with who she loves.

Next, Amira Dirie, a second-year biology major and winner of EDSS’ 2016 “Slam and Chill,” performed four poems. According to Dirie, her poems “are all untitled for no particular reason.” Dirie’s poems touched on topics of mental health, keeping with the theme of the evening. One of her poems began, “I will show you a million and one ways to love yourself.” Dirie grew emotional while reciting her own words. She presented with a soft voice and humble demeanor, emphasizing the nature of her four short poems. Her work all touched on the self, and the pros and cons of helping others.

After Dirie, there was “a surprise guest,” as Mykytenko phrased it. Wali Shah, a fourth-year sociology student, performed two pieces: one on love, and the other on Islamophobia, called “Home.” The audience snapped throughout his spoken word pieces, which seemed to resonate with nearly everyone in the room.

The last performer before intermission was Zineb Hamaimou, who slammed a piece about rising from the ashes and healing after being bullied in school because of her choice to wear a traditional headdress. One of her lines in the poem was, “My teacher once asked me if I could hear with that thing on my head. Now I listen to everything attentively.”

ICCIT Council provided coffee during the 15-minute intermission, where the audience mingled with the performers. During the break, guests were encouraged to take a closer look at the art displayed around the stage. As intermission came to an end, Jona took the stage for a second time and performed “Women,” “The Queen,” and “Note to Self.” These poems all discussed self-love and societal beauty standards. Her poem “Women” was a treat for International Women’s Day.

Following Jona, Assia Messaoudi performed “Wedding Bells” after a last-minute request to perform.

Next, Zaynab Alkari read a poem called “Blossoms” about her favourite tree back in Syria. The poem covered the aftermath of living in a war-torn country, and how her favourite cherry blossom tree was nothing but a hole in the ground when she came back from a visit in the city. She followed this poem with two more pieces: one about losing her grandmother, and another about sexual assault.

Aida Jahjah, ICCIT’s vice president of external affairs, performed three poems. Jahjah shared a personal anecdote about the troubles of a turbulent father-daughter relationship before performing a poem called “Daddy.”

Tobi Ogude, a third-year DEM student, was the final performer of the night. He dragged a chair onto the stage and paced around it as he performed poems about self-doubt and not feeling good enough. He ended on a lighter note with a piece called “Ten-and-a-half ways to survive Toronto.”

“Mental health is really important to us at the ICCIT Student Council,” said Chidimma Moraldo, ICCIT’s social and CSR director. “We’re all in school balancing part-time, even full-time jobs. We recognize it’s really important for people to connect and be a part of a community and celebrate each other’s art. This event promotes self-expression and the not-so-happy parts of being human.”