The artist known as Lynn Solar knew she’d come to the right college the day she stepped foot in the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.
It was Peppas Poetry night — a weekly Friday ritual at the “Black House,” as it was known to regulars like Marilyn Cosby (BA ’05 sociology).
“I was a freshman, and somehow found myself at Peppas Poetry set, where spoken word artists across campus shared their voices, petitioned our community for change or just released frustrations in a safe space," she says. "It instantly felt like home.
“At the set, I remember the Black House being dimly lit by a single lamp and filled with mainly students of color, intently listening to the spoken word artist at the front of the room. Laughing, clapping, snapping, sharing, relating. Like many other freshmen, it was my first time in life living separately from my parents. I’m pretty sure in this moment at Peppas, I knew I would be all right at the U of I.
“I don’t remember much else from that day. But it left such an impression on me that by my sophomore year I had become a regular performer as a singer and even dabbled in spoken word. My college roommate and I had developed a close friendship with the host at the time, Marilyn ‘Big Sis’ Garmon, who trusted our input.
“We registered the set as a student organization to which I became president, partnered with other organizations throughout campus, hosted the set at various dorms and invited musicians to perform throughout the night. We even started selling candy and snacks to fund it.
“Little did I know how much I was cultivating my future artist self. I had not even considered music as a profession. Being a singer/songwriter and recording artist was merely a dream that I didn’t realize I could pursue and achieve until several years later. Some of my best friendships today are with artists I met through my involvement with Peppas, too.
“Now that I’m reflecting on this, I’m reminded of the importance of ongoing exploration. Even when the focus of the exploration doesn’t make sense, it’s still setting us up for something awesome in our future.
“Sending my blessings to the Peppas founders, artists, musicians, collaborators, campus staff and attendees who shared this experience openly and honestly during its span at UIUC.”