‘Apollo’ show electrifies crowd

Alan Wood and Marjorie Kirk

When Naija Omari stepped out to center stage at the Black Student Union’s Apollo Talent Showcase, he reminisced about 30-minute train rides into New York City and performances on Broadway his mother took him to when he was growing up in Jersey. 

Omari’s mother, Gwendolyn Sutton, supported her son with her single-parent income as a high-school English teacher, but her determination to see him succeed and her creative passion for art. She also instilled in Omari a respect for great artists and poets. 

And while her hard work and support got Omari to UK, Sutton’s passion for art motivated the spoken-word performance that won Omari the night. The event was held Saturday in the Singletary Center for the Arts and hosted by comedian, actor and radio host Donnell Rawlings of the Chappelle’s Show. 

The event was inspired by the influential Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, which has hosted many talent contests in its legendary history, helping launch the careers of many famous entertainers such as Stevie Wonder and Ella Fitzgerald. The theater is a landmark of African-American popular culture and history, which Omari spoke about in his performance.

Omari said he wrote his piece “Late Nights at the Library” to point out what he thought were counterintuitive attitudes some African-Americans have about the brands they wear, specifically obsessions with name-brands. As someone who works hard to maintain his athletic scholarships and has a mother who works still to pay his way through college, Omari said the obsession seems hypocritical to the struggle many African-Americans families face to pursue a degree. 

“Even me going to this school, even me being an athlete, we had to pay out of state (tuition). She still to this day works very hard to keep me in school and to provide for me,” Omari said. “I feel like I owe it to her to get the best out of my college career and do things that she instilled in me when I was a kid.”

The interaction with the crowd was the key component of the night, not only in determining the winner of the contest through cheers and applause, but in a mini dance-off and fashion show that featured the best-dressed people of the night.

Omari’s spoken-word performance was awarded a prize of $500, but what he was most grateful for was that the audience gave him a chance to walk back into the memories of his childhood. 

“(For a long time) it was just me and my mom,” Omari said. “Performing took me back to those moments.”