Caroline Bennett seeks to inspire with her voice, words

Caroline Bennett grew up singing along with Destiny's Child, learning not only the words and melodies but the vocal runs and ad-libs.

“We only got the one CD,” said Bennett, who grew up on the north side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “My brother and sister told me to shut up many times.”

And she did. When she finally began opening her mouth again, first at the urging of a pastor who told her to “make sure you always got a song on your heart,” and later for a high school assignment for which a mentor encouraged her to write her own monologue instead of memorizing an existing text, the voice that came out was no longer mimicking what Bennett heard on a CD. It was her own.

It's a voice that she took with her to the University of Oklahoma, where, while an undergrad, she developed the #CarolineInspires campaign as part of her participation in a national pageant. And it's a voice she brought with her to Columbus in 2016 to pursue an advanced degree in Ohio State University's Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department. After a period of adjustment, she found ways to continue to literally use her voice as part of her education. In the years since, Bennett has presented at conferences, delivered keynote speeches at academic gatherings and last year gave her first TED talk.

“I deliver my knowledge differently. There's an expectation that you have to write in academic language, but I write just the same way as I'm talking to you right now. I'd rather verbalize. I speak. I sing,” said Bennett, who will speak at Native Tongues at the Pelican Room on Tuesday, Jan. 15, an evening that will also spotlight Zac Fresh and include an open mic.

“It's not every day a girl from the hood goes to college for six years,” Bennett continued, adding that she's the first in her family to earn a master's degree. “So I share my experiences, combined with the things I've learned, so other people can know the real story.”

While Bennett seeks to inspire anyone who listens, her heart belongs to young black girls.

“When you're free, then you set someone else free,” Bennett said. “And I just want black girls to be free.”