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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. 

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