T.J. Thao stood in a corner of the Fireside Lounge at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The scene around him was bustling: a student recited poetry at a microphone from the front of the room, the audience shouted encouraging commentary, and a live band accompanied the whole scene. For T.J., though, it was as if it was just him and the speaker in the room. He stood mesmerized, ignoring the whole scene as he soaked in the verses.
Thao, a junior, attended UWM’s Lyrical Sanctuary Open Mic Night for the first time on Wednesday, March 8.
“I’ve never been to Lyrical Sanctuary before, and I wanted to see how people choose to express themselves,” said Thao. “I wanted to experience people using spoken word to tell their stories.”
The event, which has been going on monthly for the past 15 years, featured Milwaukee inspirational speaker MVP in addition to students and community members.
“MVP is a Lyrical Sanctuary regular, as well as a motivational speaker, educator and poet who works in the Milwaukee community,” said Mikey Murry, of UWM’s Sociocultural Programming Office. “We selected her because we feel that she is not only feature material, but she is a supporter of our mission in Sociocultural Programming.”
MVP, who is also known as Vikki Porter, came to UWM seeking to inspire her audience to reach its full potential. She began her career as a spoken word artist in August 2015, after a job layoff prompted her to rethink her outlook on life. As a member of Toastmasters, a “non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a world-wide network of clubs,” MVP travels throughout the Milwaukee area using infectious optimism and enthusiasm to motivate diverse audiences.
“Always speak life with confidence and positive energy,” she said. “Most of all, believe in yourself and what is for you is for you. No one can get it, so have patience and enjoy the journey.”
MVP was prompted to enter into a career in motivational speaking by Les Brown, a former on-air radio personality, television host of “The Les Brown Show” and, from 1977-1983, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, according to his biography by Ty Bennett. (http://tybennett.com/les-brown-story-of-persistence-and-preperation/) Brown, listed as “One of America’s Top Five Speakers” by Toastmasters International, the organization of which MVP is also a member, is known for a speech entitled, “You Gotta Be Hungry,” in which he teaches audience members to “realize their own greatness by learning to say no to secondary activity, and to avoid spreading themselves too thin that they don’t have time to work on themselves.”
It is apparent from her speech that MVP took Brown’s advice to heart. “Remember that you are creating tomorrow today,” she said to students. “It is important to remember not to compare yourself, your art, or what you do to others. When you are trying to be ‘like’ or ‘better than,’ you are distracting from being you.”
MVP’s central message for students was that “you attract what you are.” She stressed that when people feel things that they do not want to feel, it is up to them to project their thoughts in a more positive light. The audience was very receptive to MVP’s message, calling out encouraging messages from their seats in the audience throughout the speech.
The upbeat mood of the audience was perhaps also augmented by the fact that Wednesday’s Lyrical Sanctuary Event took place on International Women’s Day. The evening also had a recurring political theme, with several audience members shouting, “Don’t be nice, be nasty,” in reference to Hillary Clinton being billed as a ‘nasty woman’ during the presidential debates.
In the hour before MVP’s performance, other Milwaukee community members took the stage, presenting original compositions that told stories ranging from pain and distrust to joy and completeness. Several of the artists are also in the process of releasing recordings of their work, and are using Lyrical Sanctuary as a way to perfect their craft.
Many of the poems read before MVP’s arrival also had obvious ties to the controversial policies of the White House under President Donald Trump. “We could always reinstate gladiatorial combat, that would be more just than what’s going on right now,” said a speaker who went by Bhav.
While each speaker performed, an artist illustrated what they were saying, and the permanent marker drawings were projected on a large screen. The drawings got more complicated as each poem’s plot thickened, and served as a visual representation of the pain, joy or strength that each poem expressed.
In the moments after each speaker finished, there was an appreciative silence, and the audience seemed to reflect on the words left in the room before erupting into applause. In the beginning of her speech, MVP summed it up: “Silence is beautiful; we need more of it.”