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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. 

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