Check, Please: an Open Mic Experiment by Kelsey Daniels
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Check, Please: an Open Mic Experiment by Kelsey Daniels


Words have power. Whether you use them for work, academics, or art, the opportunity to express your thoughts and opinions with others can move mountains and heal wounds. That is exactly the vision and mission of “Check, Please,” an open mic experiment located in the heart of University Heights, San Diego. This isn’t your typical experiment, however, and I wouldn’t consider it a normal open mic either, to be honest.

Check, Please” aims to foster a safe space for expression, not only with words but however you feel like expressing at that time. After hesitantly strolling into the Clark Cabaret at the Diversionary Theatre with a close friend of mine, we were greeted as if they knew it was our first time. 😅 After providing our $5 donation, we were given name tags and asked to identify our pronouns. We grabbed some drinks from the bar (non-alcoholic beverages included 😉), and took a seat at one of the tables surrounding a neon-lit stage.

After catching up over the week, the experiment began. Gracing the stage was our host, Kelsey Daniels, artist, organizer, baddie, scholar, and friendly neighborhood dream worker. Her energy captivated us all as she described the purpose of the evening. After making sure we all knew that this was a place of love and safety, consent for filming & photography was requested of every artist. She seemingly spoke to us all individually by inviting us to be ourselves.

Throughout the evening, we played games, heard poetry, music, and a captivating message from local DJ Almond Eyes. The stage was touched by amateurs and seasoned poets, artists, and average Josephines. No one person or piece was better than another, because they all were a glimpse into the feelings of another person struggling to be their authentic selves. I left feeling encouraged about the future, bummed I didn’t hit the mic, and intrigued as to how Kelsey was able to make me feel like I found something I didn’t know I was looking for. After thanking her for the opportunity to share in some of the magic that is “Check, Please,” she was gracious enough to put me on her calendar for a coffee to chat about how her experiment began.

After rushing to Cafe X, a local black-owned cafe on the edge of Downtown, and arriving 30 minutes late for this meeting, I ran inside to see if she was still there. I found her outside in the sunlight, working on the next edition of “Check, Please.” I ordered my coffee and began asking her about herself and how she came up with the idea…

Kelsey Daniels, a native of San Diego by way of Southeast, is a product of her grandparents and the time she spent with them. Comfort was often found in her grandmother’s living room. Singing in church was her first experience in expression, but she began finding her voice in high school. After attending her then teacher at Morse Highschool, who has since been promoted to principal of Lincoln High School, Dr. Cynthia Larkin‘s poetry group, she found her voice. Writing had always been a passion, but poetry offered a different level of expression and an outlet for thoughts not found elsewhere.

She attended Hampton University in Virginia, majoring in Sociology. In her sophomore year, she found herself watching “Brave New Voices,” a documentary about slam poetry, and was determined to find her space to express. While in Virginia, she was able to explore different open mics and practice her expression while navigating the bustling life of a regular college student.

Returning home was challenging, but she found solace in her work with children and creating ways for them to express themselves. She often found herself challenging them to express themselves more and realized she hadn’t followed her own advice. Kelsey Daniels, artist, organizer, scholar, had yet to find the baddie within.

After a friend, Ramel J. Wallace, invited her to an open mic at a co-working space called You Belong Here, the baddie had arrived and “Check, Please” would begin in the summer of 2019. The experiment has been a journey, one Kelsey attributes to her grandparents’ welcoming spirit. Having been in different locations, navigated online & hybrid sessions during COVID, and dealt the same financial blows as every other functioning institution in the past couple of years, it is thriving.

“‘Check, Please‘ is a place to curate a community that permits connection over perfection,” said Kelsey when I asked what her mission was. Her goal is simple, but the idea is powerful. Respect people as they desire to be seen. Whether you are queer or straight, black or white, you are safe at “Check, Please.”

Moving forward, Kelsey is looking to make “Check, Please” a community where people help each other. This month, as rain has devastated the Southeast community of San Diego, she is calling for donations and support for her community. She is also looking to expand her team of volunteers to broaden the reach of the message. I wish her the best of luck and cannot wait to attend the next event.

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