Straz Center preps for weekend honoring veterans

The Straz Center is getting ready to kick off a very special weekend dedicated to serving veterans in the Tampa Bay community.

What You Need To Know

  • Straz Center to hold weekend dedicated to veterans
  • VetChat, open mic night on the schedule
  • Both events are free for the community to attend

It all starts June 11 with an event called VetChat.

“We are featuring some lectures and also vendors from organizations that support veterans, their families, and their caregivers as well as active military, really around the topic of mental health and well-being,” said the Straz Center’s Artist-in-Residence, Fred Johnson.

The following night, June 12, the Straz will host another veteran open mic night.

We spent some time with one of the event’s co-hosts as she prepared for the evening.

BlacJak is an Air Force veteran and spoken word artist.

“I was about 25 so I didn’t go in young,” BlacJak said.

Her husband, Cotton El Murkot, is a performer and producer.

“I met her at the Black on Black Rhyme in Ybor City. I’m sitting at the bar, and I hear on the other side of the wall, the things that she said were so prolific, caught my attention, I was like, ‘Who is over there, spouting out all that revolutionary stuff?'” he said.

Once her service in the military was over, they reconnected and he helped bring her words to life.

Now, the couple spends time at veteran open mic nights.

He’s the DJ, and she shares her truth through spoken word.

“It falls back on, I suppose the woman experience in the military. A lot of women experience things like harassment, to actual assault. I was grateful I did not, however, I experienced my own sort of discrimination that I wasn’t ready to follow the line exactly,” she said.

As she prepares to co-host this upcoming event, she wants to encourage other veterans and active duty members to feel open to express themselves. 

“You have a story to tell. Everybody has a testimony and some of these vets need an outlet, you know what I mean. Let some of that weight off, let some of that stress off. Express some of your pains, joys, struggles, it helps,” said El Murkot.

The VetChat event will be June 11 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., with performances from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Veterans Open Mic night will be June 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Both events are happening at the Straz and are free for the community.