When Mojo is a Pen

The beauty of being an artist is the freedom of self-expression and appreciation for other people’s crafts. Every artist longs to find a space to share innermost feelings without fear of judgment or embarrassment. A place where the artistry put into one’s craft is treated with the utmost respect and received graciously as a precious gift. For many student artists at UIC and in Chicago, that place is Mojo’s Pen.

Mojo’s Pen started in 1981 as a student governed organization at UIC. It is an African-centered open-mic poetry set at UIC. The name comes from the belief that a “mojo” makes people feel better without the use of actual medication. Finding your personal “mojo” can be done without the help of others.   In this case, the “mojo” is found through the pen. Through writing personal thoughts and self-expression, people can cope with the stress life can bring. Mojo’s Pen is said to touch the soul and make the people in attendance experience its power to heal.

(left to right) Mosi Ifatunji, Marco Roc, Vernon Lindsay

The hosts are Mosi Ifatunji, Vernon Lindsay, and Marco Roc. These three bring energy to the atmosphere that helps make Mojo’s Pen the heart of creativity and unity that it is. Ifatunji provides painstaking insight to what is going on around the world and how it affects the Black community. Lindsay offers thoughtful words of encouragement, especially on academics, by sharing personal stories to which the audience can relate. Roc presents methods of action to give back to the community, recently leading the group in a fundraiser for earthquake relief in Haiti. Occasionally, the hosts will share pieces of themselves through their poetry. Together, the three display a special brotherhood that serves as the backbone of the set.

The performers mainly consist of students and other young musicians from the Chicago area. They are singers, rappers, spoken word poets, and even comedians. Ifatunji says, “The space is important because it allows students to express themselves in a safe space.”  Topics covered can range from what is going on in the world to what is going on in the artists’ personal lives. The artists feel comfortable sharing their experiences with the group because they consider one another to be family.

(left to right) Rik and Eazy performing

There is an undeniable bond that is present in the room once the set begins.  With various unorthodox call and response chants, Mojo’s Pen makes sure that everyone feels included in the experience. At the beginning of the set, the group picks a topic for discussion. Once the topic is selected, a piece of paper is sent around the room, where each person contributes one line to the community poem. At the end of the set, one of the hosts will perform it in front of the room. The people in attendance generally enjoy this tradition. It lets people who may be too shy to perform to still have their voices heard.

Christien R. Cain, UIC graduate and member of R&B group Lily Monroe®, describes the set:. “It is nice to come to Mojo’s and try new material on them. I never like performing new material on large audiences, when people are paying, and you’re not sure what they’ll think. Mojo’s is different. They encourage you to just be yourself without judgments.” The students seem to be very receptive to one another, encouraging people to continue after making mistakes and always giving positive feedback on their work. It is not always about how polished the performance is, but what it does for the performer’s soul. The young artists describe the setting as a very cathartic experience and say they found their personal mojo’s through their pens.

While Mojo’s Pen is an African-centered open-mic poetry set, they welcome every race, color, and creed to attend and participate. Mojo’s meets every other Thursday at 7:00pm at UIC in the African-American Cultural Center in Addams Hall. The next scheduled set is March 5, 2010. For more information on Mojo’s Pen contact Mosi Ifatunji at ifatunji@gmail.com.

–Lauren Cain


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