One Mic

A local coffeehouse could be doing more to attract teens in the area

Hearts are heavy tonight, and not one voice will go unheard. A young man approaches the microphone as his CD plays. “Track one,” He says. He sets the mood right as his beats overflow through the speakers, and his New York accent sends a chill down the spines of those who are soon to be blessed by his words. Melodically feeding them all, you’d think there would be a full house, but this poetry night attracts an audience of 15 rather than the 50 that this room seats comfortably.

“Real talk…” He begins to flow.

On the corner of 17th & Muhammad Ali, Caramel coated paint gives life to the once plain white walls to complement the wooden accents – chairs, bookcases, and a hardwood floor. Black, red, brown, and a hint of mustard yellow decorate table centerpieces, and pillows thrown across the couch that comfortably seats three. The brewing Starbucks in the back stimulates the atmosphere as people begin to warm up. Easing minds, healing hearts, and forming life-long relationships, Expressions of You Coffeehouse is no cliché poetically inclined crash site for the all-black wearing, mellow-voice having, and finger-snapping people. Expressions is filled with soul, and James & Camille Linton’s place of business.

So Good
“B.E.T. said that our stuff was too clean for their network. The thing is, when B.E.T. first kicked off, it was supposed to be a network for black teens – the goal was to give kids something positive to look at on television, not booty-shakin’ hoes and wannabe gangstas. It’s crazy what they’re putting in our children’s heads.” Small business owner James Linton, mostly known as “Mr. James”, laments as he mops floors, correctly positions tables, closes blinds, and locks doors – it’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. “We’re closed for the night.” He directs a deranged homeless man away from the door. Mr. James made this place for teenagers. “This is a family environment. We aren’t holier than thou; we’re just people who share a love for God. That’s the best way to go, especially when we have people coming in here that are hurt, frustrated, and just have a lot of stuff going on in their personal lives. We have good food, good music, good hosts, and a good time.” Sounds like the perfect spot for a teenager, but the audience shows different. Most people who attend are adults. But with such a place to let your hair down, and ease your mind, the question is, why aren’t teenagers showing up?

It’s All About Change
For years, Expressions of You Coffeehouse has been a well known spot that received a lot of walking traffic, and sold out Saturday nights – that was in the early 2000’s. “I remember being 11 years old standing in front of a teenage crowd at Expressions, reciting a poem for the first time,” says Daisha Webster, who once performed at Expressions. “I would always say that I couldn’t wait until I was older so me and my friends could hang out there. Now, I’m a teenager and the crowd is completely different.”

Roughly within the past six years, the usual teen crowd has grown into adulthood, and there is a completely new crowd to cater to – the technology crazed teens.
“Facebook, movies, reality shows, texting, and staying on the computer.” This was duPont Manual student, Nick Williams’ response when asked to list the top five things teenagers are drawn to. Advancing technology is the most influential among teens, and if you’re not giving out an HTTP address, updating a status, or using text lingo, then the connection is lost. After recently hearing about Expressions, Nick said this: “Expressions may be an amazing place, but if it’s not advertised, then no one will know, word of mouth isn’t enough nowadays, you’ve got to sell.”

This or That
Miss Marie Portwood is a 17 year old senior that has a way with words. She loves poetry, has a passion for rapping, and loves performing – quite frankly, she’s sicker than your average artist. Yet, with all of those characteristics and passion, you’ll find her at the movies on a Saturday night before you’ll see her at Expressions. When asked to explain the reason for this circumstance, she first admits that she has no idea what Expressions is. After she was informed, she went on to say,
“It sounds like a nice spot to chill and have a good time, but it has to be known and advertised right. When you try to open teens up to new things, you have to get real creative to get a crowd, because we are surrounded by distractions.”According to Nick, Marie, and a host of other interviewed teens, the issue isn’t interest. There are plenty of artistic people who would love to make Expressions of You Coffeehouse their new hangout spot, but there has to be some sort of delivery. It’s important to attract the right crowd of teens because of the mature atmosphere that is set at Expressions.
“When you have someone at the mic about to pour their heart out, you want them to feel comfortable, and to be able to trust the audience, so that there is a reassurance of security,” Nick says. Marie gives a word of advice:
“We’re teens, we get distracted easily, and so once you get us in, you have to work hard to keep us in by standing out from what already occupies our time. Excite us.”

Passion & Drive
“This is my ministry to young people, and we will continue to reinvent ourselves here at Expressions, so that all young people know that this is a place for them. We are one of few coffeehouses in the city with a poetry/open mic night for people under age 21, and whatever changes we make will embrace that fact and make it even better,” said Mr. James. He does what he does because ‘it is his ministry.’ With that, he will continue to move along.

“I’m not mad at B.E.T. They want what they want, and it wasn’t us. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and I’m not going to stop now, because I know that when one door closes, ten more open up. You have to learn to make the best out of disappointing circumstances. [Expressions] has always been a place for young people, and always will be. The only difference is, instead of coming to us, we have to go get them. Once they’re in, they’ll love it.” In spite of the distractions in the world, Mr. James’ finds a way to bring young people back to his place, the potential, ambition, and opportunity that lies within the younger crowd, as he believes, will forever drive him.

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