I would like to believe that there is a moment in everyone’s life that becomes a point of definition. This if nothing else has been the reality of my experience. My moment of definition was March 2006 when I was a participant in the finals of the Cleveland city wide poetry slam. Two weeks prior to finals night I only had one poem memorized which I wrote for a church service when I was in middle school. What was at stake? An all expense paid trip to the International Youth Poetry Competition, called Brave New Voices, which in 2006 was being held in the Apollo theater and across the city of New York.
I wrote and memorized three poems in two weeks to prepare for the finals of the Cleveland slam. The content of my poems were expressions of my experiences with discrimination, being stereotyped, living across the street from a crack-house, and my cautions about young black people not becoming victims of their surroundings. After 3 rounds and 2 hours the Cleveland team was decided. I was blessed to be one of the top 5 poets that would represent Northern Ohio at Brave New Voices(BNV).
The beautiful thing about BNV is that you compete with teams. You can be more creative with group poems and have the pleasure of working with other talented artists.
People are attracted to competition. People want to see winners and losers. People want to see tensions, struggles, and rivalry. BNV has all these things. But only the poets who participate in BNV know that the competition is a hoax. The poets know that it is much less about winners and losers, and much more about celebrating the art of slam the and the beauty of poetry. The poets at BNV know that it is much less about rivalry, and much more about youth having a voice to express our thoughts, feelings, passions, and so much more. The poets at BNV know that we are a generation that can speak for ourselves, and that is exactly what we do.
The style of writing and performance at BNV was definitely on a level I had never encountered as a 15 year old student from the hood of East Cleveland. It was a bit overwhelming for the Cleveland team in 2006. We didn’t make it out of the first two bouts, but that didn’t matter. In 2006 in New York I learned more about myself than any other event in my life. I thought I was conservative, religious, and reserved. But I discovered that I was liberal, spiritual, and outgoing. I became friends with a Buddhist Native American girl from Arizona, a Jewish guy who believed in Taoism, and a Bangladeshi guy who lives in Leeds, England. The people I met, the conversations I had, and the things I learned broadened my understanding of the world around me and changed my life.
Now at 19, I am preparing for the Chicago college slam. Slamming is still apart of my life. On the Black Youth Project promo video, I say “I am a poet, that’s all you need to know” because I believe poetry defines every aspect of my life. Poetry continues to express my passion for activism, my heart for equality, my fire for God, and my intellectual growth. I see the world through the eyes of a poet, and I know that will never change.