Written by Jake Lloyd
Poetry and creative expression bring people together.
This was most evident, most clear, and most powerfully displayed Tuesday night at Busboys and Poets in downtown Washington, DC.
Those entering the popular DC restaurant were greeted with a sign on the door: "Our Words Our City SOLD OUT." The back room was packed with people by 6:15pm, half an hour before the show. DC SCORES donors, volunteers, staff, board of directors, kids' parents, teachers and others chatted while waiting.
And then around 6:45pm, the lights dimmed and focused on 13 DC children sitting in a semicircle on the small stage. There was Zakayah A., age 8, one of the many stars from November's Poetry Slam! who also performed on NBC Washington in December. Sitting to her left was A'dora W., age 18, who last performed on a DC SCORES stage seven years prior.
To Zakayah's right and Adora's left sat poet-athletes current and past, spanning that 10-year age range. Their interactions all night made them out to be friends who do this poetry thing together every day. And during the following hour, the kids provided one dose after another of inspiration for an audience chock full of jaws dropped.
Anyone who stepped out of the room at any time during the hour show missed out.There were no drop-offs in performance level. The show began with emcee Charity Blackwell passing a pad of paper to the nearest audience member with instructions -- write a line then pass it on. At the conclusion of the performances, Charity would read the words of every spectator in the room. Every voice matters.
Next, Karen Dale of AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia, the event sponsor, spoke about the power of poetry and set the stage for special guest and DC SCORES champion Councilmember David Grosso to share his own poem. From there, the kids took over.
The performances -- a few current poet-athletes followed by an alumnus, repeated -- demonstrated the evolution of a kid in our self-expression program. The current participants' poems were a little lighter while the alumni delved deep into myriad issues plaguing their communities today. But don't call them cynical. Every poem rung of hope, of creating change and making the world a better place.
The packed-house crowd erupted after every performance. Two guest poets -- specialists, who help DC SCORES kids hone their performance techniques -- chimed in with their own works, and emcee Charity did the same. All the while, whoever wasn't performing at a given time watched their peer with fixated eyes.
To say the older kids inspired the younger would be an understatement. They were practically best friends by the end of the night.
“I got to get where I’m going, no time to fall below”
“No time for despair, I can only grow/ I can make it, it’s all I’ve ever known”
“I’ve got ideas, and courage, and life”
-- Myiah S., 18
That's how Jalia C., 10, of Aiton Elementary School answered the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
It couldn't have been more befitting of her and the 12 other poets on stage Tuesday night -- kids comfortable in their skin, in their circumstances, in what they do on a daily basis. DC SCORES strives to empower kids to embrace themselves, to be confident in their own voices, and to take pride in their uniqueness.
Our Words Our City was an impeccable demonstration.
Xavier C., 13, knows he has a gift for poetry, influenced by his professional poet father, and he doesn't shy away from the places he can go with spoken word. The former DC SCORES Shine Award winner who went to New York City for the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! and performed live on MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," wowed audience members with the sophistication and delivery of his new alphabet poem.
to learn, to live, to liberate themselves in America//where murder, mayhem, and the N word
never, never, never seem to cease
obvious cheating politicians pushing poor folk to a non-existence
Visual violence virtually violating the minds of our young
I wish I was an X-ray to examine America’s heart, and see if it really has a spirit
-- Xavier C., 13
Natalia L., 10, of Brightwood Education Campus, showcased her passion for animals with a repeat of the poem that won her the Shine Award and a teary hug from D.C. United coach Ben Olsen in November.
Then I got it,
What if I was an explorer,
What if I found a place that no one from our people had ever discovered,
What if in that place kids can run freely,
Without having to worry about the dangers in the world,
What if in this world peace there was the number one law,
And no one dared to break it,
I thought about it again,
Then it hit me,
What if there was no such thing as animal extinction,
And if there was, it wasn’t caused by humans,
Natalia L., 10
From Zakayah to Myia, from Xavier to Natalia, and every other child, Tuesday's first-ever Our Words Our City left every audience member feeling better about the world they share.
Because as Zakayah said with her poem, these powerful, smart, passionate voices...
Are. The. Future.
View photos from Our Words Our City on Flickr.