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UCI Illuminations Hosts Sixth Annual Poetry Symposium

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UCI Illuminations hosted its sixth annual poetry symposium over Zoom on Feb. 23. The event, titled “Healing and Hope Through Diverse Journeys,” was co-sponsored by the UCI School of Medicine and the Laguna Beach Poetry Society.

The symposium’s overall theme was the impact of racism on healthcare providers and outcomes. Twelve authors, all UCI students and faculty, discussed subjects such as racism, the loss of loved ones, the joy of healing others and resilience in the face of hardship. 

The event began with the introduction of keynote speaker Dr. Candice Taylor Lucas, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics in UCI’s School of Medicine. 

Lucas shared three of her poems: “Can You See Me,” “The Skin I’m In” and “Walls.” In “Walls,” she discussed some of the many ways that racism exists in our society. 

“It exists as internalized racism, where we might think of ourselves as less than. It exists as personally mediated racism, where actions are hurtful, whether intentional or not. It exists as institutionalized, systemic racism — existing in the very walls and structures that we are within. And vicarious racism, where it can even permeate walls, like second-hand smoke and impact us all,” Lucas said.

Lucas further reflected on the spaces we exist in and how they keep us from one another.

“Writing this poem, I couldn’t help but step into a space of just thinking about the many spaces we are all in — the many spaces people have been [in] across time, and the walls that either enclose those spaces, keep others out of certain spaces or build structure upon which platforms are created,” Lucas said. “We cannot pretend like history did not exist. But, we can learn from the history that did exist, and stop repeating it.”

In addition to Lucas, several other authors read their work to the audience. Kalani Phillips, a second-year Ph.D. public health student, shared her poem titled “Swimming.”

“I wrote this poem about my trauma and my attempts to heal it. I remind myself that healing is not linear. It’s not a task, but it takes practice,” Phillips said. “I hope you all hear this and kind of remind yourself that we are all stronger than we think we are.”

She explained that writing poetry is a healing process that helps give her strength in her everyday life. 

“For me at least, writing [my] poem [has] really helped me heal, because through writing poems I feel like I get these waves of creativity and they help me envision that future that I want for myself and make me feel more hopeful. So, I think giving [myself] the space to reflect on things and grounding [myself] in [my] community [have] been very big for me in healing,” Phillips said.

The event then opened up for a Q&A, and Lucas reflected on the inspiration behind her poem “Walls.” She cited the murder of George Floyd as the beginning of her reassessment of our country’s political systems.

“Thinking about recent events, it felt like, ‘Gosh, another incident of anti-Black racism. Gosh, another incident of anti-Asian racism. Gosh, another moment where there’s brutality manifesting in the death of a Black person.’ And I found myself in a space thinking, ‘What’s happening behind closed doors? What’s happening behind closed walls?’ And at the time, I was not feeling well. I was in the walls of my bedroom reflecting on what was happening,” Lucas said.

She concluded that “walls also are holding spaces for hope, and conversations of change.”

Johanna Shapiro, one of the event organizers, also reflected on Lucas’ evaluation of “Walls,” observing how they can rebuild a positive world full of possibilities and new opportunities.

“I love that idea of infinite possibility in everything that we have in our lives. It’s our choice, if we have enough courage to listen to the walls in ways that will move us forward,” Shapiro said. 

She praised the symposium’s poems and their impact on the audience.

“The poems are incredibly unflinching in their honesty and yet they also manage to be extremely uplifting,” Shapiro said. “I was really struck by the powerful imagery and the metaphor that were incorporated and also the intimacy of the voice. Most of these selections are written in first- and second-person voice, which is both very self-disclosing and revealing.”

Members of the UCI community can find future Illuminations events on their website.

Sabrina Henderson is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at