I had the great fortune of receiving a call this morning that would change the course of my day. A good friend called with a frantic request for me to sit in for a celebrity judge who dropped out of judging a poetry slam that was to take place in an hour. I jumped at the chance to help.
Little did I know that I was entering in the world of Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Festival, where over 500 young poets representing 50 different cities had come to Los Angeles for a week of activities that celebrated their voices, and for a chance to compete in the Grand Slam Finals. Today was the Semi-finals, and I was a judge.
The group that performed for our panel represented the cities of Houston, Phoenix, Austin, Albuquerque and Stockton. What I saw today was the continued growth of an art form that gave voice to those who wanted to make a political and social impact, but often felt powerless to make change. What I learned today is that all of our young folks are not jaded by what this society attempts to blind them with. They see clearly what is taking place in our world, and are more aware of the political climate and social injustice than I was in high school. I was blown away and filled with hope at the same time.
The contest went four rounds, and with each round I was moved by stories of violence, parental drug abuse, homosexuality, date rape, standardized testing, immigration, sexism, and racial hatred. These young people spoke honestly about their experiences growing up on the streets of these cities, and be they in the midst of farms in the San Joaquin Valley or in the hottest of deserts, their experiences across the map mirrored one another. Furthermore, the power behind their words let the entire room know that they weren’t sharing the experiences of others. These stories were their truth, their life, their story.
I held back tears many times through the competition. The story of a young woman watching her mother spiral downward with drug addiction; a young woman who denouncing sex symbols and role models; a group complaining about the systematic racism embedded in standardized testing; two young men struggling with their homosexuality in a society that will only allow them to express interest in women; a young man watching his mother die from breast cancer; and my personal favorite, three chocolate-hued ladies expressing how their complexion is ignored within an American beauty standard.
These young people gave me hope that this world, with all its ills and evils, is moving in the right direction. If these are our leaders of tomorrow, today we can rest easy knowing that our future is in their hands.
Much love to teams Houston, Phoenix, Austin, Albuquerque, and Stockton, and congratulations to team Albuquerque for moving on to the finals!