ATLANTIC CITY — “I hate you,” Jasmine Rodriguez boomed into the microphone.

The microphone cut out.

But around her, her peers listened intently as she continued reading an original short story. Despite the technical difficulty, Rodriguez, 18, finished her reading then sat down to resounding applause.

This was the first Atlantic City High School Coffee House event, hosted in the school’s library Wednesday. Hundreds of students filtered in and out throughout the day to listen or perform.

“It’s a lot of kids in here who get bullied for trying to express themselves,” 17-year-old Ayanna Gonzalez said. “Here, they have a chance to be who they actually are.”

The event was organized by Jennifer Jamison, the high school library media specialist, with the help of many other teachers. Jamison said she wanted to create a “community space” for self-expression.

“These kids need access and exposure to as many experiences as they can possibly get,” she said.

Jamison said there is a huge pool of talent within the high school that she wanted to highlight, and the students were excited to participate.

A small café-like atmosphere was created in the center of the library with seating arranged around the microphone, the wooden school-grade furniture disguised with blankets and pillows.

Students were greeted with donated pastries from Minos and Formica Bros. bakeries, and an abundance of coffee. Jamison said the promise of free food helped draw students.

Many students only came to watch, but several dozen performed. Tyhier Williams, 17, sang “Good Woman” by La’Porsha Renae at the recommendation of a counselor. He enjoyed the coffee house and said it was a “safe haven” for those who may not like to perform in front of others.

“It was great. They were amazing,” Williams said.

Gonzalez said she came because she didn’t want to go to class, but a friend talked her into performing. She sang “One of Them Days” by Kiana Lede.

“It seemed pretty cool because it’s the first time we’ve ever had this,” she said, admitting she was nervous.

Rodriguez said she was proud of those who participated.

“It brings a lot of school spirit because you’re seeing your peers,” she said.

Jamison said the school board has asked her to make the coffeehouse a monthly event, but because of the legwork, she isn’t sure how many more she will hold. She wants to have at least two a year, and is looking for volunteers to help.

“I hope to do this more often. I hope this library transforms,” she said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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