Coffee Haus at Frost Cafe Gives Amherst Uprising an Artistic Voice

Illen Asmerom ’18 and Bryan Doniger ’18, the emcees for the Marsh Arts House bi-weekly, “Coffee Haus,” decided to relocate the open mic event to Frost Café on Friday, Nov. 13 in support of the student sit-in taking place in the library. Students had been occupying Frost since Thursday afternoon in solidarity with students of color on college campuses nationwide who experience the effects of racism daily. By the time of the event on Friday night, many were exhausted from sleeping in Frost. Through “Coffee Haus: Illen and Bryan Engage with Leftist Activism,” the emcees brilliantly channeled and reinvigorated the positivity, excitement, and compassion of the movement. The event provided people with an outlet to respond to the movement artistically, resulting in an expressive and cathartic experience. With members of the audience singing and dancing to “Stand by Me” by the end of Coffee Haus, the event also effectively revived the feelings of solidarity that many people felt from participating in the uprising.

The description of the event on Facebook begins with: “Art is political. Art is political. Art is political.” By holding the event in Frost, Asmerom and Doniger showed their support for Amherst Uprising in relation to the arts. The event did not distract from the movement — instead it allowed people to participate in the Coffee Haus while still remaining at the sit-in. Students were participating in the event as a way to channel their support for the uprising. Many performances dealt with themes relevant to the movement. Kyndall Ashe ’18 and Simone Fields ’18 sang Ed Sheeran’s stirring “I See Fire.” Irisdelia Garcia ’18 performed a moving spoken word piece dedicated to her hypothetical future son. Amal Buford ’19 showcased an impressive original rap backed by Emmanuel Osunlana ’18, Jamie Sandel ’17, and Tomal Hossain ’17. The Zumbyes performed John Lennon’s visionary song “Imagine.” These performances inspired a sense of community and showed the solace and motivation that can be found in art, particularly during hard times.

“It was the best Coffee Haus I believe I will ever be a part of,” Asmerom said. “We had such a diversity of acts perform — people sharing their stories, reading poetry, beat boxing, dancing, singing.” Even President Biddy Martin was a member of the audience for about half an hour, while many others in the crowd sat on top of bookshelves to get a better view and proceeded to stay long after the show’s usual two hour timeframe. The event ended with Asmerom leading the audience to repeat a quotation from activist Assata Shakur in unison, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The collective singing and dancing allowed participants to remember what the movement is really about: solidarity, humanity and compassion. The Amherst Uprising is about coming together as a community to support marginalized students at Amherst. It is about recognizing the humanity in everyone and lamenting the threats to humanity that so many face. “We are so grateful to have been able to contribute something to the uprising. Being able to share the space with such an incredible movement was an honor” Asmerom said. With their Coffee Haus in Frost Café, Asmerom and Doniger effectively showed how political art can be while also revitalizing the movement’s most central goals.