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Friday, November 18, 2016

We are the future -- message rings loud and clear at Eastside Poetry Slam!

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

We are all more than just kids. We. Are. The. Future.

And with that line, Burrville Elementary School's poet-athletes -- wearing "Burrville Strong" T-shirts -- summed up the underlying message sent during the second night of the 19th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam! at H.D. Woodson High School.

DC SCORES school communities east of Washington, DC's Anacostia River are strong, and never was that more evident than Thursday night when the 20 teams who took the stage collectively told the audience -- and anyone else listening -- what shouldn't have to be said.


"Me and my peers will not shed tears, but we will persevere."
-- KIPP KEY Academy


The night ended just like it had the previous two years -- with Aiton Elementary School's poets, coaches and parents rushing the stage. The Aiton Bears were Golden Mic champions, and no one was arguing.

Donning "Straight Outta Aiton" T-shirts and with their hands shackled by paper-created chains, the Bears delivered yet another powerful, united, inspiring, and thought-provoking performance.

I've been craving dreams to wake up without being assaulted
To live in a place where skin won't define any human
Where people won't gamble with our lives
To not see crying mothers burying their child

Aiton's 8-, 9- and 10-year-old kids interwove black history, today's struggles, and their perseverance beautifully in a performance that spoken word professionals would be proud of.

The Bears punctuated it by raising their chained fists in the air, the paper chains harmlessly falling to the ground, and saying, as one:

Choose to live a life that matters
Choose this day to make your life matter
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Our lives matter 


That theme -- our lives matter -- was present throughout the night in front of the capacity audience. During a time of such uncertainty in our country and our communities, the Slam! was a refreshing reminder that these poet-athletes are wise and strong beyond their years. They may only be single digits in age, but their voices are powerful beyond any sort of measure.

There was Delaney B., 11, of Kelly Miller Middle School, taking the mic, stepping to the front of the stage, and being brutally honest about the disadvantages she faces.

Yes, I understand I may have some ups and downs but ALL people do.
Yes, I am Black but the fact that I’m a girl sometimes makes it even harder.

But Delaney reminded the audience that she's not complaining. She will show the world her fortitude.

I have a dream which is to overcome what you may think of me.


There was Arnye Y., 10, of Thomas Elementary School, with maybe the most captivating solo poem of the evening:

They say man down, but what about woman down?
They say man up, but what about woman up?

If Arnye isn't in public office within two decades, we'll be surprised.


And there was KIPP AIM, decked out in their red school uniforms with one kid holding a sign reading "For our past, our broken brothers," delivering a performance multiple generations of African-American could relate to. If DC's new Smithsonian Museum is looking for children's poetry from the District, it's right here:

For our past, our broken brothers
We are a family
Connected through blood, history, and shared struggle
Why do we fight one another?
We can choose to leave the hardships and troubles in our past
All we need is a breath that lasts
We’ve felt more pain than others
But we’ve been able to withstand it by standing together
We’ve been beaten and broken
Through slavery, segregation, mass incarceration
The wounds may heal and the scars may fade
But the pain of a thousand atrocities pulses through my veins
Beat us down, lock us up
I choose to beat the odds and lock those struggles in the past
I refuse to let this nightmare last


It's too bad President Barack Obama wasn't in attendance, because he was included, too. Because while these DC SCORES teams from the District's most underserved areas decried the circumstances that make their lives difficult, they also made one thing clear:

They're proud. 

Of their school communities. Of their neighborhoods. Of their families (if KIPP QUEST Academy's "I love my Mom because..." poem didn't make you cry, you're one of the few). Of their city. And of their country.

Imagine Hope Tolson's students put on their best Hawaiian fashion, Wearing leis around their necks, the well-educated Soaring Eagles delivered an ode to the president:

Ma-Ha-Lo President Obama
For inspiring youth to reach for their goals.
MA-- HA-- LO
Ma-Ha-Lo President Obama 
For helping to open the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ma-Ha-Lo President Obama
For creating the largest protected marine wildlife preserve in the world.
Ma-Ha-Lo President Obama,
For investing in education, technology, and renewable energy.
Ma-Ha-Lo President Obama

Mashir C., 10, followed this ode with one to his hometown of Washington, DC, listing all the reasons he loves his city.


I have the urge to be me
Myself because I am me
I will not change just for someone just like me

Amidon-Bowen Elementary School delivered these words to start the night, and they rang true for the following two hours. From when emcee Charity Blackwell asked the kids to yell, "I LOVE DC SCORES" and eardrums popped until D.C. United players Travis Worra and Jalen Robinson and Shayne Wells from the Deputy Mayor for Education's office handed out trophies, kids didn't act.

They were themselves. Authentic. Genuine.

Some were serious, such as Jefferson Middle School's Janiah P., 13, who won the Shine Award and helped the Trojans take home the Golden Mic. Others were funny, such as Payne Elementary School with lines like, "When I grow up, I want to rap like Fetty Wap."

All impressed. All cheered for each other.

Our community is strong. Our neighborhoods our strong. Our city is strong. And especially our kids are strong.

That's what came across in the WUSA-9 (CBS) segment during the 11PM news, and that was real.

"We are all more than just kids. We. Are. The. Future."


Elementary Schools
1st place -- Aiton Elementary School
2nd place -- Amidon-Bowen Elementary School
3rd place -- Burrville Elementary School
Spirit Award -- Imagine Hope Tolson
Shine Award -- Arnye Y., Thomas Elementary School

Middle Schools
1st place -- Jefferson Middle School
2nd place -- Kelly Miller Middle School
3rd place -- KIPP KEY Academy
Spirit Awards -- KIPP AIM Academy
Shine Award -- Janiah P., Jefferson

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