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Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Poetry SLAM! journal Part I: New to New York

On April 16, two exceptional poet-athletes represented DC alongside 28 of their peers from SCORES affiliates across the country at the 6th Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! The event was held at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, where elementary school students performed their original pieces of poetry exhibiting community pride and emotional maturity beyond their years. Nikki Allinson, DC SCORES Community Outreach Coordinator, provides a sneak peek behind the scenes of the three-day trip to New York City -- funded by the Meltzer Group Employee Giving Fund -- with this two-part series:

Part 1: Getting comfortable in the Big Apple 

Saturday, April 14 
 I had the incredible opportunity to chaperone Ayanna V., 11, of Noyes Education Campus and DeAndre W., 10, of Perry Street Prep to New York City for a long weekend in preparation for the National Poetry SLAM!. The weekend kicked off in a rush, running to catch the Amtrak from Union Station. Ayanna had finally made it to the station after picking up some last-minute essentials for the trip. Ayanna exclaimed, “I couldn’t leave Muscles at my Grandma’s house!” as Muscles, her stuffed dog, bounced his head in agreement while we ran with our suitcases to the gate. 

 DeAndre was traveling with his mother, so to begin with, it was just us girls. Ayanna was noticeably nervous and excited, asking question after question. “Is New York in a different time zone?” “Have you been to New York a lot?” “Who else has been on stage at the Apollo?” “How tall are you?” “Did you bring a red suitcase so we could match on purpose?” 

Her questions eased into a long “woooooooaaaahhhh” as the New York skyline came into view. I let her enjoy the sights, pointing out the few buildings I can name. Minutes later, copying my arm raise, Ayanna successfully hailed her first cab and cheerfully hopped in to tell the driver the address of our hotel. 

As soon as we checked in, we found DeAndre at the hotel and set off on an adventure to Grand Central Terminal. In our meetings leading up to the trip, De Andre had mentioned his love for mythology, so I was excited to see his reaction to the ceiling inside the station. His jaw nearly dropped to the floor! 

Ayanna spun in circles looking at the lights, and DeAndre stood in place just gazing up. “This one has to be Zeus! Oh and that one is Pisces with the fish! Did I say that right?” 

Back at the hotel, it was time to meet the other poet-athletes from across the country. Ayanna and DeAndre sat on either side of me in a quiet circle where nervous, shy students played with their name tags. That’s when one of DeAndre’s strengths shone through as he crossed the circle, stuck out his hand and said to a peer, “What’s up? You can call me D! Where ya from?” 

Sunday, April 15 
We had an early morning wake up, much to room 9G’s discontent. I was in a hotel suite with another chaperone from Dallas and four girls in addition to Ayanna. There was a completely different feeling in the room compared to the previous night, as the five girls had become incredibly close surprisingly fast. 

During breakfast, the girls told me all about their slumber party from the night before. “We played tag and hopped on the beds and didn’t even watch any TV!” said Karina, the poet from Dallas. “Karina snores suuuuuper loud and hogs the sheets!” Ayanna said through a mouthful of cheerios. 

We then hopped on a bus and were off to Harlem’s P.S. 192 Elementary School for an intense morning of rehearsals. Russett, one of the girls in our room, goes to school there and excitedly pointed out parts of her neighborhood to the rest of the 9G girls. 

The students were split up into three performance groups and sat in separate classrooms listening to each other’s poems and giving constructive feedback. Ayanna and DeAndre had experience with this activity last season prepping for the DC SCORES Poetry Slam! during Starbucks readings. But this time they were working with new friends instead of their teammates who they were more comfortable with. 

Ayanna seemed nervous about performing her Martin Luther King Jr. poem, but as soon as she opened her mouth to begin, she was at home. The other students were impressed with her lines challenging the audience: “Do you believe? Can you achieve?” 

They gave her sound advice, impressing the chaperones in the room with their astute observations and mature responses. One student from Seattle said, “One thing that you can work on is maybe swaying less, like get in a soccer stance?” 

I switched classrooms to check in with DeAndre and his group’s practice and knew from the minute I walked in that he was getting nervous. The classroom setting for the practice rounds was a bit of a challenge for DeAndre to settle into, but he found his calm demeanor when it was his turn to practice. 

“It makes you fall to your knees, with great ease.” 

DeAndre had mastered the physical movements of his poem, but there was one glaring problem: he couldn’t hold the microphone in his hand like he was used to. 

It was incredible seeing these kids relate to each other in ways that seemed improbable only 12 hours earlier. They worked like a team, building off of each other and trusting each other in ways that impressed each adult in the room. 

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.

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