Walk into Canopy Club any given night and I doubt you will step into an environment quite like this one. Upon entrance (after being properly ID'd) meet one of the workers at the sign-in station to sign-up for an open mic and also add your name to the mailing list to stay updated on future dates.

Continue on into the main room and enter a tranquil atmosphere reconfigured to resemble a laid-back movie theater. Two jumbo screens play the film, Hidden Colors 2 while spectators tune in. There is little to no talking amongst the audience. They are completely engulfed in the documentary, which gives an in-depth insight into the detrimental warfare that plagues those of African descent within the United States. You may be asking yourself: What type of event did Canopy host that would include these types of entertainment? Its name is “The Culture.”

Creator and host of The Culture and local proprietor of BARZ, Shasta “Klevah” Knox debuted this open mic event in October of 2014, and has continued to expand its reach and grow in attendance throughout its duration. Although The Culture has been going strong since its inception, Klevah decided to add a twist to this month's event and shed more light on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The movement has been gaining strength worldwide due to the higher-than-acceptable number of cases of black youth and adults being gunned downed at the hands of police enforcement, with little to no reasoning. She not only wants to spread awareness of this tragedy, but also to present a space where all could come together to voice their opinions on the matter in a safe environment. The Culture is a realm for artists of all sorts to grab a mic and speak their truths. What better way to showcase the talent Champaign has to offer — while incorporating community members, leaders and activists to band together for a common cause?

The Culture has always been a place for those outside the artistic circle to speak their peace as well, but the addition of a film screening to initiate dialogue on such a tough subject is more groundbreaking than most would assume. By giving the mostly young adult audience undeniable facts presented by educators and historians of their current plight and the reasoning as to why we are, as blacks, in the predicaments we're in today not only allows minds to open, but it automatically sparks dialogue. During the film's 2.5 hour duration I could hear many spectators speak about the wrongs blacks have suffered due to the complexion of their skin and even ideas on ways to change this continued pattern. The gain of knowledge is always the first step in changing a less than ideal situation and I saw this step initiated by The Culture.

After the movie ended the crowd cheered and clapped and moved into a short dialogue between Klevah and co-host, local comedian Christopher Hightower. As the night continued on, one by one artists and local community members and leaders began the open mic with thought-provoking pieces regarding race in America, unity amongst minorities, community development and strategies to combat the harsh realities of the black population.

Along with providing youth frustrations a platform on which to be showcased, The Culture also showed that our young people are not blind to the circumstances that surround them. Art, and more often than not hip-hop, has been the medium used by this generation to speak out on the ills they personally face day-to-day. The Culture was created for this type of protest art, made for all artists to remove the weight they too often are forced to carry without an outlet to unload. This space is more than an open mic, but a therapeutic domain to relinquish all of Life's burdens through artistic expression. After participating in such a moving event I can only imagine the ideas Klev has next for The Culture.

Keep up with her next moves by following her on Twitter and always remember Everything is... Gr8.

Photos courtesy of Tom Chandler.