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Thursday, April 21, 2016

America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! journal: Three days in New York City

In mid-April, DC SCORES Writing Coordinator Mira Smith accompanied star poet-athlete M'kya, 10, to New York City for the 10th Annual America SCORES Poetry SLAM! and a weekend full of memory-making. During three days, M'kya, a KIPP QUEST Academy fourth-grader, experienced many firsts, made friends with SCORES students from across the country, and inspired a capacity audience on SLAM! night.

Here, in chronological order, is Mira's journal from the trip:


Previous M'kya posts
Get to know M'kya, Part I
Part II
Part III

Written by Mira Smith
Writing Coordinator

Saturday, April 9
After weeks of preparation and excitement, it was finally time to head to New York City for the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. M’kya and her mother Akita arrived at Union Station wearing incredible matching homemade DC SCORES KIPP QUEST T-shirts. We ate lunch together, picked out some snacks for the journey, and boarded the train. I relaxed during the train ride and M’kya spent the majority of the trip sleeping and writing in her journal. After we passed through Philadelphia, M’kya started counting down the stops until we would arrive in NYC.

Once we arrived at Penn Station, we walked a couple of blocks to our hotel to meet the other SCORES staff and poets. M’kya and I headed up to our room (on the 25th floor!) where she met her roommate for the weekend. The first event of the evening was the welcome dinner for all of the poets. Dinner was virtually silent as many poets had been traveling since early morning and looked like they longed for sleep. The poets played a fun ‘human bingo’ icebreaker and then had their first rehearsal with coach Tova where they learned about the rest of the weekend.

Eventually we headed upstairs to our penthouse suite, settled in and went to sleep.

Sunday, April 10
Sunday morning began with an exciting breakfast of New York style bagels — M’kya couldn’t believe how big they are in New York! All of the poets walked together to the SVA Theatre where the SLAM! would be held. They were wide-eyed, in awe of the performance space, and I could sense the excitement building. Coach Tova led the poets in voice warm-ups and taught the complex choreography for the the group poem. Although repetitive and tiresome, after a couple of hours the 13 poets who had just met each other the night before made incredible progress on their performance.

Next we ate lunch at a Barbecue restaurant where the poets had a chance to meet and chat with some professional poets including Charity Blackwell — former DC SCORES staff member and the emcee of the SLAM! — from D.C. Already, the poets had formed friendships with each other and mealtime was much more lively than the night before.

For the next few hours, we had a chance to do some sightseeing. M’kya and her friends decided to start with the Empire State Building. Along the way, we passed the public library and then finally turned a corner and suddenly came upon the impressively tall building. After two long elevator trips, we made it to the observation deck.

M’kya and her friends were astounded with how much it was possible to see from the top. They found the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and even our hotel! Everyone decided on Times Square for the next destination, so we all walked together toward the bright lights and billboards. After taking numerous photos with disney characters and superheroes, we headed to the m&m store. Who knew there could be a three-story building dedicated solely to m&m’s?

We headed back to the hotel for a quick break and then made our way to a fancy dinner joined by SCORES staff from around the country in town for the America SCORES conference. M’kya and her new friends spent most of the dinner playing games including the newly invented rhythm game “SCORES poet,” and a hilarious challenge where a person needs to find a straw using her mouth with her eyes closed. Emcee Charity Blackwell challenged the poets to a boys versus girls dance off the next night after the SLAM!, and so by the end of dinner everyone was secretly planning their dance moves and music selection.

Although tired from the long day, we headed back to the hotel for the annual slam pajama party — a tradition each year of the event. M’kya and her roommates covered the hotel floor in pillows and blankets, ate popcorn and candy and played different games to practice their poetry. Their favorites included a pillow-fight/freeze-dance poetry game and a battle to recite the group chants with as much attitude as possible. That night, the poets had no trouble falling asleep.

Monday, April 11
After eating another huge New York bagel, M’kya and the other poets spent the morning rehearsing group and individual poems with Coach Tova. It was amazing to see how much progress the poets made in just two days!

We ate a quick lunch at the hotel and then rode a bus to Central Park. It was a beautiful sunny day and the group found a perfect grassy spot to play soccer, run around and continue to get to know each other. Everyone had a blast spending time outside and releasing some nervous energy.

Next we headed back to the hotel, gathered our things and took a bus to the SVA Theatre. The poets rehearsed through the entire show complete with microphones, lighting and choreography. They even got a sneak preview of DC SCORES alumnus Xavier Crowell’s slam poetry performance! The group enjoyed a delicious dinner of New York pizza and then headed backstage while the guests arrived.

Each poet received their very own America SCORES National SLAM! jersey with their home city printed on the back. While the poets did some final voice warm-ups with Coach Tova, I grabbed my seat in the audience and waited eagerly for the show to start.

The powerful group poem “It Takes Courage” started off the show and the rest of the poems continued smoothly without a hitch. M’kya rocked her individual poem, "Could Rap Music Be," proving why she was picked to represent D.C at the Slam. Whether serious or silly, each individual poet blew away the audience with his or her thoughtful and poignant words.

After the final group poem, the poets ran off stage to the reception. The group spent the rest of the evening autographing each other’s shirts and the audience members’ programs. In DC SCORES tradition, the evening ended in a dance off where the poets got to show off their sweet moves, be goofy and celebrate with one another. Every participant felt proud of their individual and group accomplishments.

Tuesday, April 12
In the morning, M’kya, Akita and I walked to Penn Station. We stopped along the way to buy a couple of souvenirs and then boarded the train back to D.C. The weekend was memorable for everyone involved, and personally I can’t wait to hear M’kya’s next original poem.

I'm sure there will be many more!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

DC SCORES holds the biggest alumni soccer tournament yet

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

(Full tournament photo album.)

This year, the weather cooperated.

Not that some rain would have kept the kids away.

Tuesday marked the 6th Annual DC SCORES Alumni Tournament held at Tubman Elementary School, and the event for former program participants now in high school was its largest ever.

More than 150 kids making up 17 teams spent a chunk of their spring break playing countless soccer games, reuniting with friends, and laughing and smiling under sunny skies while a wind ripped across the green turf surface on which three games took place simultaneously -- one round after another.

The tournament was sponsored by District Sports, a longtime partner and the largest provider of adult rec soccer leagues in DC. The Truth Initiative also provided support.

Before the event began, all the kids came together for a pep talk followed by a group photo. It was amazing to see the 17 different teams, all wearing custom-color T-shirts, make up a rainbow in the photo.

And then it was game time! More than any DC SCORES event, the tournament showcases the progress kids who hadn't touched a soccer ball before joining the program make over three, five, seven years. The skill level is very high, and the competitiveness only increased as the games got more meaningful.

In the end, F.C. All-Stars came away with the championship for a second straight year after scoring a golden goal vs. F.C. Lions. The All-Stars were handed autographed D.C. United balls, a generous donation from our partner.

But when all was said and done, more than 150 kids had a great time playing, storytelling, laughing,
reuniting, reminiscing and much more. The tournament was the best it's ever been, and it'll only continue to grow as more DC SCORES poet-athletes become alumni.

Thanks again to District Sports and the Truth Initiative for making the Alumni Tournament possible!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Through poetry and spoken word, M'kya Stephens' confidence soars

M'kya and her little brother Markel, a future DC SCORES poet-athlete. 

In mid-April, M'kya Stephens, a 10-year-old from KIPP Quest Academy, will travel to New York City to represent DC at the 10th Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!.

M'kya will be one of 14 poet-athletes from across the country who come together for three days. The kids will get to know each other, explore the Big Apple's most iconic places, work together on creating a group poem, and finally perform that poem and their individual pieces on stage Monday, April 11 in front of a capacity audience.

This year's SLAM! will be held at the SVA Theatre, and you can buy tickets here! This is the third and final blog in a series introducing you to M'kya, whose poem about shooting with cameras, not guns, captivated the audience at the DC SCORES Eastside Slam! in early December. 

Previous posts:
M'kya Part I
M'kya Part II

UPDATED: M'kya was incredible in New York City. Watch her performance below and here.


M'kya holds her Shine Award trophy at home.
Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

Akita Mayhew doesn't know how her daughter M'kya, 10, would have handled what's she's seen in her community without DC SCORES.

All Akita does know is how the poetry aspect of the program has helped M'kya, in fourth grade, process events that many adults have a hard time dealing with, and how she has become one of the strongest voices at KIPP QUEST Academy in Northeast DC.

"I think part of what motivated her poem ('Shoot with Cameras, Not Guns,') was one day we were walking home from school and there was a shooting in front of the store," Akita recalled recently. "And that really, really affected her in a negative way.

"But she turned it into a positive and used DC SCORES as an outlet to get through it."

That wasn't the shooting M'kya references in the poem that won her the Eastside DC SCORES Poetry Slam! Shine Award and led to her being chosen to represent the city at the America SCORES National SLAM! in New York. That happened relatively soon after the first shooting and occurred behind the school.

"On top of that, sometimes we're just home and we hear police coming up and down the street or we hear gunshots that sound like they could be near the school or near the park," Akita said.

It's not an easy situation to grow up in, but M'kya is, according to Akita, "more confident in everything she does," a noticeable change that's occurred in less than half a year.


Within weeks of the DC SCORES program starting last fall, M'kya became attached to writing. She was excited when she learned that poems didn't have to rhyme and that she could just express her feelings -- whether they were about the neighborhood, school, or something silly. 

Akita started noticing that just about every day when M'kya came home, she just wanted to talk about the self-expression workshops. M'kya began writing a poem with her 8-year-old niece who goes to Burrville Elementary School and will join DC SCORES next year. M'kya shared her poetry with her younger brother Markel, another future poet-athlete.

M'kya's writing became a popular topic at home. And it also impacted other areas of her life. 

"I've seen that she's become a determined girl when it comes to meeting all of her goals in school," Akita said. "Just in general, she's become really determined and she's really on top of her academics." 


That determination was most evident as KIPP QUEST's DC SCORES team prepared for December's Poetry Slam! at H.D. Woodson High School. 

M'kya was competing against a couple other kids to see who would perform their original poem in front of the capacity crowd at the culminating event of the fall season. And she wanted to be the one. 

She wanted it badly. 

M'kya would come home every evening and perform for her mother, asking for feedback on how she sounded, how she pronounced words, her arm movements, and every single aspect that goes into slam poetry. All of this from a 9-year-old (at the time) who had never taken a stage by herself before.
"She was really making me critique her," Akita said, "And I was impressed like, 'You're really, really sold on getting this role.'"

When asked if M'kya has wanted anything more, Akita didn't hesitate:

"It's the biggest thing she's done since she's been in school."


Akita and M'kya with D.C. United's
Travis Worra and Ben Olsen at the Slam!.
Akita was nervous the evening of Dec. 3 as she took her seat in H.D. Woodson's auditorium. She was nervous because she knew M'kya felt the same way. 

Her daughter stumbled just a tad at the beginning of her poem, and Akita yelled out, "OK, Mini Me!," the nickname for her daughter because she sees so much of herself in M'kya. From there, M'kya's words pierced through the din of the crowd, her voice becoming stronger and more confident with each syllable, the emotion laid on thick. 

"It was like something else came out of her," Akita said. "It was more emotion, it was more powerful than she had practiced with me, and that took me by surprise.

"I'm in the crowd and I'm yelling and choked up on tears."

M'kya's uncle, Akita said, told her, "Man, I was over there crying."

Akita had thought M'kya's words might feel softer and less confident because of the big stage and bright lights. Instead, her daughter embraced the spotlight and thrived with microphone in hand.

"She just made me so proud," Akita said. "I don't think I've been (more) proud of her than that day. She just really, really did her thing."


And now onto New York. 

Akita has no doubts about how M'kya will approach this next stage opportunity. Akita's biggest challenge, in fact, might be to not let her daughter's head swell too big. Recently M'kya's dad texted her, asking if she was ready for New York. 

M'kya's reply? "Always ready."

Followed by strong arm and smug face emojis. 

I was like,' OK, M'kya, you're really showing out," Akita said laughing. 

Pointing to M'kya's father being a rapper and M'kya now wanting to be the center of attention and thriving in that space, Akita believes her daughter will stick with poetry and self-expression as a way to speak her mind and empower others for years to come. 

As if Akita needs a reminder of this, every time she enters the living room there's an object in plain sight. 

M'kya's Shine Award trophy, front and center. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

6th Annual Alumni Tournament sponsored by District Sports, supported by Truth Initiative

This year, the forecast is clear.

Not that the weather at DC SCORES' annual Alumni Tournament dictates the turnout. After two years of rainstorms that didn't keep over 100 high school students from showing up at Tubman Elementary School, Tuesday's forecast is for 60 and sunny.

The tournament, sponsored by District Sports and with support from the Truth Initiative, is the biggest alumni event of the year -- reuniting former poet-athletes on the turf field at Tubman for four hours of soccer games, catching up with old friends and teammates, and much more.

Thanks to the tournament sponsors, each participant receives a customized T-shirt and kids form teams usually based on their former DC SCORES affiliations. For example, there's often a Lincoln Middle School team (or two), a Raymond Education Campus team, and other school-based squads representing all parts of DC.

The most incredible aspect of the tournament is just how good the players are. No other event showcases how much kids improve by going through the DC SCORES pipeline. You'll see kids on the field who in third or fourth grade didn't know the rules of the game who are now star high school athletes and on the cusp of playing at the collegiate level.

But that's not the best part of the day, which belongs to the ubiquitous sense of community. It's amazing to see how many kids dedicate a large chunk of a spring break day to DC SCORES -- many of them showing up well before the tournament kicks off at 11am.

We owe a huge thanks to District Sports for sponsoring the alumni tournament and to the Truth Initiative for its support of our older-youth program.

We hope to see you on the pitch tomorrow!


  • What: 6v6 soccer round-robin soccer tournament, with top teams advancing to playoffs
  • When: Tuesday, March 29, 11am-3pm
  • Where: Tubman Elementary School (map)
  • Online registration: HERE

2015: Photos
2014: Photos, blog
2013: Photos
2012: Photos, blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Poetry allows M'kya Stephens to write about community

In mid-April, M'kya Stephens, a 10-year-old from KIPP Quest Academy, will travel to New York City to represent DC at the 10th Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!.

M'kya will be one of 14 poet-athletes from across the country who come together for three days. The kids will get to know each other, explore the Big Apple's most iconic places, work together on creating a group poem, and finally perform that poem and their individual pieces on stage Monday, April 11 in front of a capacity audience.

This year's SLAM! will be held at the SVA Theatre, and you can buy tickets here! This is the second blog in a series introducing you to M'kya, whose poem about shooting with cameras, not guns, captivated the audience at the DC SCORES Eastside Slam! in early December. You can read Part I here.


Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

It was a somber, sad and scary day in M'kya's neighborhood that influenced M'kya's winning poem.

Here's how M'kya describes thinking of the idea for "Shoot with Cameras, Not Guns," which won her the Eastside DC SCORES Poetry Slam! Shine Award:

"I came up with the poem the day we had a notice about a shooting behind our school," she said. "I just thought back about all the crime that's been happening in DC over the past years I've been living here."

The poem was one of the most powerful at the Slam!, and now she'll perform it in New York City at the 10th Annual America SCORES Poetry SLAM! April 11. And to think that she didn't even really like poetry at first.


The first DC SCORES self-expression session M'kya remembers from DC SCORES was a group one that didn't really resonate with her. However, when she and her teammates had their first writing workshop — given a pencil and her own notebook in which she could write freely, and with the support of her peers and coaches — M'kya became comfortable.

"I had the feeling," she said, "the writing coaches were really going to help me. "

Now, M'kya doesn't just write during DC SCORES; she writes poetry at home while spending time with her 4-year-old cousin who doesn't write yet but has plenty of time to follow M'kya's lead. 

"My favorite part of writing poetry is being able to express my feelings and being able to impress the crowd," M'kya said. 

"When I write a poem, I feel excited because I get to let out all my emotions and express about how I feel."


M'kya smiles on a warm day in early March as she recalls performing for the first time in front of a capacity audience at December's Eastside Slam! at H.D. Woodson High School. 

"It was amazing because it was my first time doing something like that," she said. "I was kind of nervous because I thought I was gonna mess up.

"But when I went through the whole thing and I was finished and the audience was clapping for me, I heard my Mom's voice and I was like shocked because this was my first time performing in front of a big crowd."

M'kya's poem capped off KIPP Quest's performance, and the poet-athletes returned to their seats in the auditorium to watch the remaining schools take the stage. When emcee Charity Blackwell (who will also emcee in New York) began announcing the winners, M'kya didn't even consider the possibility she might be the Shine Award winner.

This made for an even more special moment when Charity spoke clearly into the microphone, "And the Shine Award goes to ... M'kya..."

"At first I just looked at my teammates and I was like, 'Did they just call my name or is that something else?'" M'kya said. "Was I dreaming or something? My teammates yelled, 'Yeah, M'kya,' and I was like, 'I won the Shine Award!' I was so happy."

M'kya will likely never forget receiving the shiny trophy. 

"That moment I was like happy for myself because this was my first time getting a real gold trophy, something that was metal that I couldn't break," she recalled. 


There won't be any trophies in New York. The national SLAM! isn't a competition, but rather a showcase of the incredible self-expression and creativity SCORES is bringing out in poet-athletes across the country. 

M'kya is fine with that. This will be her first trip to the Big Apple, and she can't wait to see the Statue of Liberty, eat New York pizza, and be in the city where the New York Giants play — her godmother used to live in the city and passed along her Giants fandom. 

She doesn't plan on discontinuing her poetry writing anytime soon after April 11, either. More than anything, M'kya is excited to pass along her passion for self-expression to her brother, a second-grader who will join SCORES next year. 

And who knows — maybe the 4-year-old cousin will follow her lead, too. 

All anyone must do to be inspired by M'kya is watch her poem — the first of likely several she'll wow audiences with. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring 2016 season begins for DC SCORES!

The spring DC SCORES season begins this afternoon when the school bell lets out. Across Washington, DC, kids at elementary and middle schools and rec centers will reunite with friends and coaches. Customized DC SCORES school jerseys will be handed out.
  • The first soccer balls will be rolled out.
  • Kids will roll up their sleeves and begin to examine their communities and create change.
  • Let 12 weeks of soccer and service-learning -- culminating with the Jamboree! June 4 -- begin!

You can get involved this spring by volunteering or donating to directly support programming. See below for more information.

Where is DC SCORES? 

See the map below and click here for a Google Map. The short answer: All across Washington, DC, in 7 of the city's 8 wards.

How service-learning works 

Here's a step-by-step process of how DC SCORES teams go about creating and implementing service-learning projects in their communities

  • Step 1: Walk around your school and neighborhood with a clipboard and pencil and write down things you don’t like (trash on the ground, lack of trees and gardens, too many struggling homeless people).
  • Step 2: Research the topic(s) that you identify as the biggest need. Examples could include looking up statistics about homelessness in DC or depression among middle school youth, among many others.
  • Step 3: Implement a service-learning project. Take action! Execute a comprehensive plan to make your school and/or greater community better.
  • Step 4: Spend the last few days reflecting on the project. What did you learn? What else can be done going forward to make a difference?

This all sounds like a lot for a group of adults, but they’re actually often the beneficiaries of the work by 8- 9- and 10-year olds in DC SCORES. Yes, during this spring’s 12-week season, teams at 45 elementary and middle school sites across DC will feel empowered through service-learning and will create change in their communities.


In addition to our biggest, celebratory event, the Jamboree!, the spring season features six weeks of elementary and middle school game days and our annual alumni soccer tournament. Also, the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! is the premier national showcase of SCORES, which is in 14 cities nationwide!


It's no secret -- Game Day is the most fun day for our poet-athletes, kids' families, and our staff! On Thursdays and Fridays throughout the spring, we bus teams throughout DC to visit new neighborhoods, make new friends, and strengthen their communities. Volunteers referee, a staff member supervises each site, and once the whistle is blown, the girls play first followed by the boys.

See this blog and the videos below for more on the game day experience, and find out where the next games are by visiting the soccer schedule page of our website. 


At an event? Taking photos or videos? Connect with us and use #SpringSCORES16!