On Feb. 11, 2023, six powerful poets took to the stage at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. At this stage, each of them spoke succulent words, leaving traces of thought and curiosity in the minds of the audience members. These six poets were MasterPiece, Shanelle Gabriel, Desiree Mckenzie, Sydellia Ndiaye, Roya Marsh and Truth Is. At this yearly spoken word event, When Sisters Speak, Dwayne Morgan, award-winning Toronto poet and founder of Up From The Roots entertainment, hosts marvellous black women to share their truths about the life and struggles of being black women in today's society. Every year for 23 consecutive years, different poets hit the stage to perform their spoken word poems, each of them reaffirming the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities from topics of racism and feminism to black empowerment and women's capabilities.

From left to right, MasterPiece, Roya Marsh, Sydellia Ndiaye, Shanelle Gabriel, Truth Is, Desiree Mckenzie, and Dwayne Morgan bow at the end of the event. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Lumsden.

Opening with host Morgan, this year’s event was curated in assistance with the Harbourfront Centre’s Black History Month celebration, Kuumba. Full of workshops, music, dance and literary events, the celebration highlights contemporary artists and thought leaders from the Afro-diaspora in Canada. When Sisters Speak participated in this celebration and brought black women's voices and cogent themes to light. It allowed and continues to allow serious issues to surface, fun to be had, thoughts to be provoked and lessons to be learned. These poets present their spoken word poems with such themes and the audience never fails to follow along in harmony.

For years, this event has changed the narrative of black stories, prioritizing the joys of blackness and opposing the experience rooted in trauma. In an interview with The Brandon Gonez Show, Morgan explains that “We (black people) have always been joyous people. Even though other people have brought trauma into our space.” Black history shows us the horrors and traumas that have been faced, as well as the triumphs and progressions that have happened. Each year, when poetic black women stand on stage and express their own personal emotions, traumas and triumphs, they are actively furthering the same progressions necessary for society to learn. A lot of the time, the sadness and tragedies in black history are portrayed in mainstream media; however, events like When Sisters Speak help shine a light on the beauty that there is in the same history, rarely being shown to the public eye.

The 2023 event started with a bang as the first poet, Desiree Mckenzie, took to the stage with her first performance in When Sisters Speak, presenting strong poems about personal experiences, highlighting being a woman and black joy. Desiree, being new to the stage of When Sisters Speak, was able to portray gender equality and reduced inequalities as she intended, just as stated in the sustainable development goals. As the others went on to perform their stunning sets of antifragile words, topics of domestic violence, police brutality and skin bleaching were released into the air for everyone to take in. Not only do they explain their struggles of being black, but they also tie in what it is like to be a woman today. As it is coming to the end of Women’s History Month, the poems they write become especially emphasized.

Sydellia Ndiaye performing on stage. Photo courtesy of the Harbourfront Centre.

In one particular poem by Shanelle Gabriel, she speaks of the oppression that women face, specifically in the workforce, saying, “When you come to them (men) human and they prefer you object. When you come to their rock and they prefer you be a pillow. When you come to them whole and they offer you 76 cents to their dollar.” It is extremely important how society perceives the differences between men and women and When Sisters Speak combats these very false narratives.

When Sisters Speak, the everlasting, powerful spoken word event of the 2000s assists in the education of black excellence and women shining constantly. Rich in culture and strength, these women proudly took to the stage and dominated it, projecting their truths into an active audience who were eager to learn and listen, snap and cheer and liven up the Harbourfront Centre last month, With different poets coming to grace Toronto again next year, another stage will yet again be graced with the beauty of more black excellence. Along with When Sisters Speak, Dwayne Morgan’s following event, When Brothers Speak, will be joining them next year.

To learn more about this marvellous event and the amazing poets who performed, please visit

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