I don’t really know anything about hip hop and as a writer I am the opposite of a performer and I have never been a poet or a lover of the stage.
But I saw the most incredible thing on Saturday night.
These guys host free workshops for teenagers all over the city—on community building and spoken word and performance and DJing. I’ve seen their Executive Director in action, as he used to teach poetry workshops for my program in South Central LA—and his energy and language and ability to make his kids dream so big is inspiring. When I heard they were hosting the city-wide Grand Slam finals—not to mention one of my amazing students was a finalist—I convinced my friend Charlotte to spend a Saturday night in the auditorium of Washington High School watching 23 teen poets (and then some) spill their hearts out. Loud.
And here’s the thing. These kids blew my mind. They were so brave and fierce and confident and powerful and elegant and loud. They gave each other so much support and love. When one finalist walked onto stage and froze, all 23 finalists stood up and cheered and said to her you have this, you can do this and they didn’t sit down until she lifted her voice to the mic. Nobody edited or cut their words. Nobody said you can’t say that or that doesn’t sound right. They just put their words together and threw them out to us. I couldn’t believe how brave and intense it was.
You won’t see me competing in poetry slams any time soon. Nor will I ever teach spoken word and performance well. But I’ll never question its power. And it has me thinking— what are the best ways to teach story-telling? To teach confidence and to develop our own language and voice? Is it always on paper? Or is it sometimes out loud?