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Monday, December 17, 2012

Inside the classroom: How Noyes Education Campus crafted an inspirational Poetry Slam! performance

Written by Shakeria Reed
Poetry & Service Learning Program Coordinator

“Ms. Shakeria, Ms. Shakeria, we have a list of themes for the poetry slam!”

Two of my poet-athletes were running up to me only three days after the DC SCORES season had officially begun. It was mid-September.

“That’s great, Roneisha and Ayanna,” I replied, “but, ummm, can our feet touch a soccer ball before we start thinking about the Poetry Slam!, which is months away?”

I admired the eagerness of my students, who did an amazing job at last year’s Eastside Poetry Slam! to win second place. They weren’t satisfied with that finish, though. After they watched Arts and Technology Academy piece together an incredible performance to win the school’s fourth consecutive Golden Mic trophy, they were ready — right then and there — to begin practicing so they could hold the gigantic first-place trophy in 2012.

When it was officially time for Poetry Slam! preparation, my Wolfpack brought ideas, choreography and costumes. They enjoyed the thought of creating a theme where all three poems related to one another, so the usual ideas included soccer, bullying and violence — all great ideas but we all knew we had to go BIGGER!  

One of my youth presented the idea of “Give Us A Reason,” and from there the students created a theme related to stereotypes and how they would defy them.

In order to extract gold from the minds of my Wolfpack, many open-ended discussions occurred. The first involved explaining what a stereotype was and the ones that they faced as African American and Hispanic kids growing up in Washington, D.C. Surprisingly, many did not know what a stereotype was; they had heard things, but never knew what they meant and how they related to them. So I made it a point to explain the stereotypes that African American females faced such as teen pregnancy, and Noyes’ other coach Russell Holmes explained to my young men how African American males were stereotyped as doing nothing but going to prison.  

More importantly, we explained what they had to do to not be another stereotype, another statistic. The students formulated great ideas of what they planned to do, and it made me proud.

The hard part was creating two group poems together. The kids understood the idea, but it took a lot of encouragement for them to dig deep and really think about the serious issue and how they could express it through poetry. An activity we had them do was to go around the room and say something somebody had said to them that made them really upset. One girl said someone called her ugly; another one said someone called her stupid; and then one of my gentlemen said, “Somebody told me I would be the next person in my family to go to jail.”

Breakthrough!! With this new information, the kids knew where we were headed.

We started by creating the “You Told Me” poem. The “you” was anyone who ever said anything bad about them, the doubters and the haters. This also stirred a discussion about Trayvon Martin. All of my kids had heard about the teenager who was killed in Florida while walking back from the store to get ice tea and Skittles. What they did not know was the message behind his death. The stereotype that a young African American male dressed in a black hoodie was perceived as dangerous.

After this discussion, the golden couplets rolled in and we knew we had an amazing poem on our hands.

When the night of the Poetry Slam! arrived Nov. 28, my Wollfpack was ready! The energy, confidence, choreography and message were strong. They got on stage — after waiting through 17 schools’ performances — and rocked it!

The last line was memorable:

“YOU said I would be a hot mess, but look at us now: WE are all a SUCCESS.”

The crowd roared as the kids shedded their hoodies (and, symbolically, the stereotypes) and revealed shirts that read “SUCCESS.”

Just minutes later, the look of excitement on the kids’ faces was overwhelming as Noyes Education Campus was announced by emcee KoM as the first-place Golden Mic champs!

That will definitely be a day I know they’ll never forget, but the preparation and lessons they learned to get to that victory will live on inside of them forever, too.

Check out the Noyes Wolfpack’s dynamic performance on the DC SCORES YouTube channel.

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