Natachi Mez CC’19 is a spoken word artist with a computer science degree. She’s also a Microsoft “new technologist” who spent Saturdays with incarcerated youth producing beats and rhymes. Her Columbia journey has been equal parts creative passion and intellectual and self-discovery.
Since her senior year in high school in Elk Grove, CA, Mez knew she wanted to attend college out of state. She’d been a part of leadership development and liberal arts conventions on the east coast and in the Midwest, and those opportunities to travel through academics encouraged her exploration.
Mez also was drawn to the arts and to New York. She knew of twin sisters in her older brother’s class who went to Columbia. “I remember from a distance looking up to them; I didn’t really know them but would hear about them,” she says. “They loved dancing. I started to think Columbia, New York City and being in an urban place could be cool. And access to arts and the creative world, which are so important to me, was really appealing.”
She discovered the Barnard/Columbia poetry slam team — Mez was on her high school’s poetry slam team — and then applied and visited. “The energy of the campus had a more independent feel, which I felt strange about. It was visceral, like this could be an opportunity for growth,” she said.
Once at Columbia, she began looking for performance opportunities, artists and people to collaborate with. As a first-year, Mez performed at the African Students Association annual showcase, Afropolitan. “I asked and they let me. That was very cool.”
But Mez kept up her academic and community building pursuits, going to Maine to intern in bioinformatics at Jackson Laboratories in Maine after freshman year. She also got involved in a Beats, Rhymes and Justice project organized by Columbia’s School of Social Work. Mez helped lead production and rapping workshops for teenagers on Rikers Island.
The summer after her sophomore and junior years, Mez went to Washington state to intern at Microsoft, working on mobile app software and product development. The computer science major initially thought she would study neuroscience — in fact, Mez almost dropped her computer science class, but loved the “parallel motif” that a computer is like a brain.
She spent the spring of her junior year abroad, in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Study abroad was a really special time for me, being away from routine and responsibilities that can feel bigger and more pressing than they are – I was so grateful to be in new space,” Mez said. “She also assumed she wouldn’t be performing as much, outside her NYC creative community. But the journey took a turn.
From dance to poetry to political parties —“a party, literally,” Mez said — she found herself among artists engaged in conversations about immigration and “what a world without borders look[s] like.”
At one event for activist-artists, Mez reflected with attendees on international feminism. “For Denmark it’s somewhat of a new idea, because international feminism wasn’t necessary for the majority. To witness certain spaces really being new because of the changes in population, ethnicities, race and religion was really interesting — so many of the discussions are different than what they would be in the states,” Mez said.
Mez recited a poem she wrote about her Nigerian American and Igbo heritage, and spoke of her feelings about not being able to speak the language. The organizers asked her to perform at an event for women of color in Copenhagen, where she and another spoken word artist of Pakistani and Danish heritage became friends. “The relationship between migration and Danish-ness was a wild journey,” Mez said. “Just learning about first- and second-generation identity is something to reflect on. I really appreciated those little moments of how we identify ourselves.”
Those moments and spaces made her trip: “It felt like being invited into someone’s home, and that was a big theme of what study abroad felt like. It was such great energy.”
Back on campus, Mez invited artistic energy into her residence hall for “Not So Tiny Desk Concerts,” playing off a National Public Radio series. “I thought, what if I hosted a concert in my literal room? That’s how it started.”
Mez also brought campus artists to perform brief sets in the lounge of McBain Hall, where she’d been a resident advisor since her sophomore year. “There is a really dope creative community on campus. That’s something I’ll definitely miss. And tech is still something I want to tap into, whether it’s being a tech person for the art community or other interdisciplinary work. There are a lot of ways I can see being at intersection of art and technology,” she says. “Over these four years, I’ve had a lot of great moments. Your passions and your values can be a powerful compass.