Speak Up! Art is Action–MassLEAP Youth Spoken Word Exhibition

My name is Gina Perille, and it is my pleasure
to welcome you on behalf of the Edward
M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. I lead the Institute’s external
relations efforts here, and public programs like this are a very important part
of that work. The institute is a place where people of all ages
and all walks of life can come experience democracy, learn about
the United States Senate, express their views, and also learn to find
common ground. Senator Kennedy
strongly believed that a successful democracy
depended on participation. He was a constant advocate
for empowering young people to take an active role
in their communities, and he envisioned the institute
as a place where they could speak up
and be engaged. And that’s exactly why
the institute is so proud to be part
of this event tonight: the Speak Up! Art Is Action– MassLEAP Youth Spoken Word
Exhibition. Also, we’ll really happy
to be part of ArtWeek as well. So we’re going to hear
young poets share their voices and their views on issues
connected to the 2016 election and to the nation as a whole. And all of us who work,
volunteer, and intern here, we’ve made a commitment
to engaging and hopefully inspiring
the next generation of leaders to get and remain involved in the civic life
of their communities, and MassLEAP is fully committed
to the next generation as well. We’re very happy to have
MassLEAP cofounders here with us tonight: Alex Charalambides
and Amanda Torres. (applause) We’re also really happy to have
each one of you here tonight. So please do come back
to the institute and have the full experience
of our exhibits and our daytime programs, because are you always,
always welcome here. So now allow me to make
two introductions. So, first, Boston city councilor
Andrea Campbell. (applause) Councilor Campbell was elected
to the Boston City Council as District 4 city councilor
in November 2015. Her district primarily includes
the neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattapan, and parts of Roslindale
and Jamaica Plain. Councilor Campbell was born
and raised in Boston and educated in the Boston
public schools. We’re very honored
to have her here to help us open the program. And after Councilor Campbell
speaks, Amanda Torres will come up
to the microphone. She is cofounder and artistic
director of MassLEAP. Miss Torres is a talented
and accomplished performer in her own right, and she’ll be
introducing the artists tonight. Miss Torres has served
as poetry artist in residence at the Institute
of Contemporary Art, Boston, and is artistic director
for Massachusetts Louder Than a Bomb
Slam Poetry Festival. So first, please help me welcome Boston city councilor
Andrea Campbell. (applause) Good evening,
good evening. Wait, hold on, mic check. One-two, one-two. That’s the extent
of my performance. I just want to say… I want to thank
the EMK Institute. I want to thank Gina,
I want to thank Segun. I also want to thank MassLEAP
for having me today. I am honored to be here
because I really felt like you should be calling
on someone who’s either done spoken word
or is a good poet, a powerful speaker, and I never tend to put myself
in those categories. And so tonight I was wondering
what do I say to these powerful young people
in the room who are going to get up here
and really share their stories, share their perspectives
on not just the election 2016, but on how they feel
about the political system. And what I told myself is regardless of how you deliver
your story or how you deliver
what you’re trying to say, it’s just important that
you speak up. It’s important that you let your
story and your voices be heard. I am the newly elected
District 4 city councilor, so I actually was sworn in
in January. I was elected last year. I replaced a councilor
who was there for 32 years. So I took on a task
where most people said it was impossible for me to win,
don’t waste my time, don’t step up,
don’t use my voice, and definitely not get involved. I pushed back
against those assumptions, those assumptions
that people have on what young people
are capable of, those assumptions
that people have on what young people can do. I started my campaign
by simply sharing my story. I was going door to door
in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain,
and just telling people who I was
and why I decided to run. I ultimately told them the story
about my twin brother. I had a twin brother
named Andre, so it was Andre and Andrea. We were both born and raised
in Boston. We grew up in Roxbury and later moved
to the South End. We went to all Boston
public schools. I went to Boston Latin School,
the Harvard-Kent, the Bradley in East Boston,
the Timilty Middle School, as well as the Blackstone. After leaving Latin School, I went off to Princeton
University and then UCLA for law school,
and I came back to Roxbury to represent little kids
in education cases and ultimately went on to work
with Governor Patrick as an attorney, and then decided
to run for office. My twin brother, on the other
hand, had a different story. He cycled in and out
of the criminal justice system, ultimately passes away
while in the system. He was 29 years old. And so I asked myself
the question: how do two twins, born and raised
in the city of Boston, have such different
life outcomes? And so when I decided
to run for office, it was to carry not only
my brother’s story with me, but to answer that question
and to work every single day so that we don’t have
those outcomes happen again. So I would not have stepped up if I didn’t feel as though
I had power, if I didn’t feel as though
I had power in my voice and in my story. Each and every young person
in here, you have incredible stories,
I’m sure of it. Our system of democracy,
our system of accountability depends on you stepping up. It depends on you
using your voices, and it depends on you
speaking up. So I’m excited to be here
tonight to listen to you, to hear from you. This, I hope, is the beginning
of a conversation. I tell folks all the time
I love my position because I get to engage
with residents in the city of Boston
every single day. The problem is we have
over 70,000 residents that live in District 4, but only 7,000 or 8,000
come out to vote. Nearly 40,000 are eligible
to vote. 30,000 are actually registered
to vote, so all they have to do is
just show up, but they don’t. So we’re out there
every single day, encouraging folks
to share their stores so that we can work with them, to pull them
into the political system, but at the same time
to inspire them to take action, to speak up. So thank you
for allowing me to come and welcome you here
to be a part of this. Continue to speak up. I can’t wait to hear all the things
you have to say tonight. And I apologize in advance if I have to cut out
a little bit early, but I’m going to stay
as long as I can. I must say, I had three
different conflicts tonight, all involving politicos
and fund-raising, and I canceled them all because I wanted to come
and hear from you. I believe in young people. I hired young people, including Sean over here,
who is 19 years old. I believe in employing
young people. I believe in listening
to your voice not from a distance,
but right at my table. So thank you for being here. Thank you again, Gina,
thank you to the EMK Institute, and good luck tonight. (applause) (applause) So we have a great show
for you all tonight. This is a little tall for me. We have a great show
for you all tonight. We’re going to have
some young people from the Urban Science Academy, from Match Charter High School, from Westborough, from Lynn,
and from Somerville High. Right, Andrine,
is that where you go? No, where do you go? Cambridge, okay. I think it’s important that
before we get started, we set a few, like, norms
of our culture. So when you hear something
that you like, what do you do? (snapping) Yes, yes. Exactly. You go, “Mm, yes,”
that sounds great. I think that one of the powerful
things of spoken word is that it’s
a dialectic art form. So when we’re up here
performing, when the young people are
up here performing, you can respond
and also be a part and show how you are moved by what it is
that they’re saying. I am originally from Chicago. I’ve been doing spoken word
since I was a young person, and that is why I choose
to do this work now. I think that it’s not
just my responsibility, but it’s essential to changing
the world that we exist in. I believe that art is connected
to social action and that young people
have the power to shape the world
that we exist in. So I’m going to start
by bringing up a young person who has been working with us
for the past three, four… four years? Her name is Topei Shalola. Please give it up for Topei. (applause) Okay.
Hi. Like she said,
my name is Topei Shalola. I am 17 years old, and I go to KIPP Academy
Lynn Collegiate. Blackbird, my baby sister
craves flight. When I sit her in front
of windows, she is silent. She is quiet. She is perched. Mouth wide as if
she could swallow sky, capture wind on the insides
of her curled fists, arms spread, weightless, waiting for her wings
to grow in. I’m afraid she will fall in love
with deceased dreams passed down for generations
as hope. My baby sister laughs
when I sing. Aiyana Jones was shot
in her sleep. I hold my sister as she snores. I deceive myself into believing I can stop white supremacy
with my bare hands as if they aren’t trying
to kill me, too. Sandra Bland spoke. I fear the day my sister’s words
become singed with black rage, when revolution trembles
in her voice. Tanisha Anderson was slammed
into the pavement. I don’t trust sidewalks anymore. I know the pavement waits
for her chalk outline, too. Rekia Boyd was shot
in Chicago. I inspect my sister’s stomach
for bullet casings. I don’t question the day
my fears become reality. Black children die,
but my sister lives, and she’s waiting for the day
I stop clinging to her body every time a black body is
disrespected in a courtroom, every time a black woman ends up
in a silent coffin. But you don’t know my sister. You don’t know of the mornings
I wake up to her screaming. I wonder if she knows
she may not make it home. I wonder if she knows this poem
is my way of immortalizing her. I want her to be human
before a movement. Her name is Tammy-lora
Tammy-tile Shalola. She is a manifestation
of my mother’s dreams. She is black joy and testimony
all in one breath. She is ten months. Her favorite food is
apple sauce. She giggles when I sing to her. She digs her fingernails
into my bottom lip when I laugh. She smiles, eyes wide, hands smeared with the sweet
potatoes mashed on her bib. When she cries, tears pulling
at the seams of her church dress and my songs cannot assuage
her tears, I cry, too. I hold her as her voice
becomes sirens, as she becomes too loud
to breathe, too black to fly. She has no wings yet. I write her eulogy now. I’m writing my sister’s eulogy
before her first birthday. I’m trying to humanize a baby. I’m preparing myself
to hold her dead body when they say
she was asking for it, that her existence
was provocative, that black girls
that yearn to fly, to stretch their nonexistent
wings to the heavens have no business living. I’m preparing myself, yet she is still staring
outside my bedroom window, oblivious of white America
and misogyny as her palms peck at the glass,
as her smile morphs into song. I know it is pointless,
but I need you to know this. I need you to say her name
with me: Tammy-lora Tammy-tile Shalola. Thank you. (applause) All right. Next up, we have a young person
from Urban Science Academy. Give it up for Amethyst Torres. And she shares my last name! (applause) So my name is
Amethyst Torres. I’m 17, and I’m with Urban Ego. White picket fence surrounding. White, white picket fence surrounding mother, father,
three children. Mom, dad, three siblings. Mommy, daddy,
three beautiful creations. A nation proclaiming dream. American dream. One of eight. Single, unemployed mother,
fueling why I work so late. While I work, he forces sweat dripping down my hairline
half the time, but shivers rock my body
in the coldest of nights. Nine, n-n-nine to five working,
nonstop working. I am yearning to feel the smooth
surface of a white picket fence only to receive
the barbed wire coil sharp enough to pierce,
blood dark enough to set fear. This does not resemble a dream
for me– American. I do not feel American
in these moments. Somewhere maybe three or so
layers under my appearance where Latina resides in me, comes out and dances
among my skin as I feel unwelcomed
in the term “American.” While feathers tickle
my outer being, being native in a land
that is stolen from me. American dream is for the elite. My nightmares are rooted
from the bottom of the feet of those who have tasted
this dream. White picket fences
are all I see. Standing in the projects, it feels the only white picket
fence I get to keep is from the image
across the street. (applause) So next up,
we have two young people from– I’m going to ask both of y’all
to come up– from Match Charter. And when they come up,
I just want to give you a little background
on what MassLEAP does. So, MassLEAP stands for Massachusetts Literary Education
and Performance, and our idea is to help build a thriving youth arts and social
justice community in Boston and the greater area
across the state, and how we do that is
we have year-round programming for adults and professional
developments, as well as we run
the Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Slam Festival. And our new open mic, which I will ask
one of the young people who is coming up
to say a few words about because they’re running it,
is kicking off next week. Please give it up for the two
young people from Match Charter. Whoo! (applause) – Hi. My name is Tamia. I’m 13, younger than most
of you guys. I’m from Match Middle School. I’m representing Boston Pulse
Spoken Word. This poem is called “The Cowards
Versus Those Who Struggle.” By the way, thank you so much,
MassLEAP, for giving me this opportunity. I never thought
I would ever get this. Land of the free,
home of the brave. But isn’t that exaggerating? Is America lying
to all those people, people who don’t know, people from other places
looking for the American dream– for riches, for fame,
for happiness, for promise, which are all lies. The lies they told
my Somali parents that if they worked hard enough, they will finally be able
to get better careers. This country disrespects those who come here
for the American dreams, who wish
and work their lives off, wishing and wishing for the approval of citizenship
and status. For the respect
of a human being. But let me ask you this:
why do we lie? Why do we fight
for the wrong causes, then die? Some of us who die
for this country never get an apology
from America for trying the American way. For wishing the American way. For wanting the American way. For believing
in the American way, a way that only serves
a specific type of American. Are we the land of the free
and the home of the brave, or are we the cowards
who hide behind money, power, fame, and government? The ones who stopped listening,
the ones who stopped caring while people are suffering,
waiting for your attention. #ArmsUpDontShoot,
#TerenceCrutcher, #SandraBland, #TamirRice, and the countless hashtags
unhashed, untagged, unnamed. Those suffering from poverty
cannot afford university, can’t put dedication… can’t put dedication
into better… Sorry. Can’t put dedication
into better education. The worry becomes money,
a language only some can master. My American dream
is quite the opposite. It’s to provide for my family,
to make my family proud, to succeed as a Somali American,
use this education for elevation to get noticed
in the shadow-casted world, to leave a mark and a message that will surface
through all of this despair. My American dream is to make
my mother smile. But she has a different dream
altogether. She says, “Please,
you are smart. Use this for your advantage.” Her dream speaks,
“Be a doctor! Be a lawyer!” Symbols of typical
American success. But I want my mother’s dream
to say, “Good job, Tamia,” with a big smile on her face. “You did good. “You survived this. I’m proud of you.” (applause) – Hi, my name is Nilaijia Brown. I am 13 years old. I am from Match Middle School, and today I am representing
Boston Pulse Youth Spoken World. This poem is called
“The American Nightmare,” and to start, I just want
to also thank MassLEAP… (mic cutting out, no audio) A-M-E-R-I-can is what I am, but I can’t get that far
in society. This red, white, and blue
that I sing for, this red, white, and blue
that I stand for is now starting to turn brown,
black… (mic cuts out) In America,
there is crime every day. Red, white, and blue lies
speeding down my urban streets, the younger me wonderizing
what this all means, the older me realizing that
the negatives are the norm. America doesn’t reach
for dreams, but nightmares. People come here
looking for a place to make a change
and live better, only to switch on the TV
and see a wealthy white man preaching about how
he’s going to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants who try to escape the peril
of their own country, who don’t own themselves
to this America. Citizenship comes
at a steep price. Black men with their hands up,
unarmed, getting over-killed because a white woman
didn’t know how to keep her finger
off the trigger, off the implicit bias. We try to stand up,
but we get shot down like it’s an obstacle
we cannot overcome. When the prices go up,
the hopes goes down. Trump might win, and now welcome
to the great American nightmare. Sorry to burst your bubble,
but what you thought America was is not at all
what you were expecting. So many lives are lost. So many tears are being shed. So many time…
so much time is spent fighting. Then one day, you realize
you can’t win this battle because the war has been rigged. Many of us can’t sit outside
on the porch anymore because you’re scared you might
get caught in the crossfire. Can’t wear a hoodie without
being looked at the wrong way. They’re looking at all of us
the wrong way. And now we all have
the potential to be stopped and frisked
at any given moment. Can’t make mistakes. Can’t take risks. Can’t breathe. The police mistake the license
to carry a gun to have the license
to start taking lives. I ask, “When? “When is my time? “What can I hide behind? When can I wake up
from this nightmare?” (applause) I think it’s terrifying that
at our presidential debate that stop and frisk
was brought up as a legitimate alternative. (scoffs) Thank you for those pieces. So we’re going to bring up
a group piece. Does anyone know what
a group piece is? No? No? Nobody knows? So, a group piece…
so Louder Than a Bomb, part of the festival is
to bring young people together. So it isn’t just
about individuals sharing their individual
stories, but it’s about finding
points of connection across difference to create
a piece together, right? So this first piece that
we’re going to bring up, we’re going to bring Topei
back up, and Agnes. Please give it up
for Topei and Agnes. (applause) – To, like, clarify
what the poem is about, so we’re doing a piece
on solitary confinement, and Agnes is going to be
the person inside the prison and I’m going to be the walls
speaking at her. (mic cuts out) And it goes day by day
over a period of time. Day one. – I am my mother’s daughter, a mesh of souls and promises
she sewed by her bedpost. My mother birthed me
on the hottest day of August under humid sun,
blood, sweat, and prayer. I asked her if heaven was
an endless birthday party. My mother laughed with wind
chimes in her esophagus. I can’t remember the notes. The quiet quickly quarantines all that is left of her
in my memories. But I know I am my mother’s
daughter. – I birth dead babies here. – My mother smells of black soap
and plantain skins. – Prison reeks
of an industrialized orphanage. – I will not die here. – Isolation will make a hollow
ghost out of your soul. – My sadness
will never become solitude. – Day 60. – I tried counting the days. – You carve out my body. – Inscribing tally marks
with my fingernails until they bled. – To keep count of how many days
you’ve lied inside of me. – I’m breathing. I know I am my mother’s… You made a mess of my mind! I don’t remember the sun. – Then how do you explain
its burning? – I can’t feel the breeze. – Then how do you explain
its whisper? – I dreamt of a woman
last night. She spit out
shattered wind chimes, grabbed on to melting candle wax
until her flesh was singed. I don’t remember
what that means. – You grasp on to what
you can no longer hold. – I don’t know what it’s like
to be held by anything other than concrete. My pillow suffocates me
in my sleep. The walls keep whispering
my name. – You won’t listen. We still your voice
to save the silence. – If you can hear me, then why
can’t you save me from myself? – Day 93.
– I am my daughter’s mother. – Too often…
– I am my mother’s daughter. Heaven is an endless
birthday party, mother. I am an endless
birthday party, mother. Mother, heaven is endless,
mother. There is no heaven,
there is no heaven, mother. I am unblessed,
I am my mother’s daughter… – …where “cruel” and “unusual”
is inscribed in between bricks. Solitary confinement
is mental homicide, and you’ve just watched it take
another victim. (applause) That is the first time
I’ve ever heard that piece. Very powerful. I think I’m reminded of the ways
in which prison and the incarceration of black
and brown people in this country affects not just those people,
but their families and their communities
and their neighborhoods. And also, it makes me think that no matter what happens
for this presidential debate, no matter who is the leader
of our country, the power lies with the people
who are organizing, and the power lies with us
to ask and demand for change. With that said,
I want to bring up… Rashim! Whoo! (applause) – Hi, my name is
Rashim Mohammed. I’m a part of the Urban Science
Academy slam team. I’m 17 years old. I think the title of my piece
is named “Cycle.” They will tell me
to shut my mouth, to close that window
which lets my thoughts out. So what’s happening now? Will they hold that door shut until they are sure
that I have drowned? So what’s happening now? Will my vocal cords be clipped
so I can’t shout? So what’s happening now? Welcome to the year 2016, and I welcome you to the world’s
greatest magic mirror in which you are reflected
to be free, where the heart is torn out
of any being considered to be an anomaly–
America. For the bloody fingerprints
of black hands imprinted in its history, pointing gun barrels
at innocent children thinking their homes and streets
are where the gangsters be. Leaving our communities
to deteriorate into dens of paranoid beasts– or at least that’s what
the media depicts us to be. Where young children
are left hungry, rubbing blisters on their feet, and walkers-by
won’t hear their cries because their headphones
are dominated by the loud sound of a beat. Like what’s inside costs less
than what’s on your feet, where someone’s safety
isn’t guaranteed over a nice, fresh, clean pair
of Air Force Nikes. Where the screams
of the innocent can be heard more often
than Keira Knightley. Tell me if you want to go home. And for many knew… That’s a pretty good song that
I’m sure most of you don’t know. But tell me if you want
to go home. For if many knew
what they would face once here, they would be gone faster than
a bullet to the dome. Or like a call to your home and the IRS tells you
that you have been foreclosed, and now your assets are gone, and so is everything else
that you own. Where the pop culture bites
out of your personality like a portabella mushroom
cheesesteak and your identity
is mixed to perfection to make a milkshake,
making a full-course meal in which anyone can partake, created from a recipe
all too easy to replicate. Are these problems to be blamed
on the government, with organization and execution that stinks worse
than some rubbish? Should there be a change
in the establishment? Because I kind of see
what’s being established, and I don’t really like it. The ethics and ideas
that America was raised on when it was a teenager have been diluted like vodka
mixed with ice water, and now minority lives
and justice are being discarded like childish emotions that America deems unnecessary
for growth, like it just broke out
of an abusive relationship with freedom, which was once
its crowned jewel. Inviting life into its walls,
as well as beauty. But freedom tended to drink a little too much
at social gatherings and made an embarrassment
of America in front of other countries, and freedom never learned
from its mistakes. Well, its power and presence, which overshadowed America’s
small figure. It used America’s name
to cover up its faults and damaged its ability
to feel again. Like many of the lives lost
in this process, to heal again where blood serves
as a Ben & Jerry’s substitute, and scenes of tragedy
are binge watched in an eternal Netflix
subscription. But every once in a while,
every now and then, American freedom
begin again as friends, and the whole cycle
begins again. (applause) – (unintelligible) – So, yeah, my name is Kingsley. I’m repping Indigo Society Poets
from KIPP Academy Lynn. Before I start my poem,
I would like to tell you… talk about all the problems
occurring in Haiti because there’s, like,
a hurricane happening right now, and there was an earthquake
a couple of years ago, and I feel like I can’t pursue
my American dream without knowing what’s wrong
with my country and, like, how… and, like, without fixing
my country. So my poem is called… my poem is called
“7.0 Magnitude.” Bodies. Hundreds of thousands of bodies
lay motionless. Hundreds of thousands
of blood-bathed bodies are spread across the floor. Decrepit, motionless
Haitian bodies are just lying on the floor with the sense
of post-revolution spread across the nation. The ghost of
Toussaint Louverture clings on to these bodies trying
to resurrect their freedom. But this time,
he cannot save them. No one can save them. These bodies have been cemented
into a forced predicament. The cracks on their skulls resemble the cracks
on the floor. Their debris-covered skin
resemble the broken walls. Their red blood and blue tears
resemble their own Haitian flag being wrinkled repeatedly
into the shape of a ball that was thrown into the dust. This nation has turned
into dust, and these people have turned
into dust and ashes. And the debris
has yet to be swept, and they are just laying there, while people fail to realize
how hard life can be post-slavery and post-revolution
when you’re only left with your pride but no resources
to actually maintain it. These bodies are maintaining
the stature of a a broken-down slave staring at the eyes
of their non-apparent gun, and then they hear screams. They hear bloody chants to God with tears blocking the flow
of their plea and the taste of blood stained
on the roofs of their mouths. They miss the roofs
of their house. Abstract pain becomes concrete. The concrete is falling quickly
on to their bodies, and their bodies are slowly
turning into memories. The last words they got
the privilege to mumble was a plea to God–
not a prayer, but a question. They asked him what they did. They asked him if the concrete
piled on top of them was a replacement for shackles. They wanted to know
why they were so trapped. They wanted to know
if their lives were not enough. They wanted to know
if slavery was not enough. They wanted to know, were their bodies a replacement
for the triumphs slaves gained once they grasped
at their freedom? Were their bodies
an advertisement for disaster, or were their bodies just
a twisted-up symbol for a failed civilization? It was Haitian Independence Day
when my mom asked me why we were eating
the traditional soup joumou. She wanted to know
if I was aware of the revolution in my meal,
and I told her that I knew. I told her how Haitians were not
allowed to enjoy this meal and how the masters wanted
to scrape the taste of pleasure out of their tongues. And as I sat at my table,
I pictured every victim of the tragedies in Haiti
sitting down while smiling at the sight
of food and triumph as if they finished off
each battle in this war of redemption. As if they can pick up
their wrinkled Haitian flag and iron out
all of the problems. As if these bloody bodies
were soaked with the sweat of our past. And as I sip my soup
six years later, reminiscing the day I came home to see my mother’s eyes
filled with tears and hear repeated phone calls
to Haiti that were unanswered, I’m aware that I am sharing
with every victim of the tragedies in Haiti. I’m sharing with every
blood-bathed body that left the stain of freedom
on our flag. I’m sharing a piece of history to those who try to put our pain
on pause. So remember, do not forget to…
(speaking Haitian Creole) (applause) – Thank you for that piece,
Kingsley. And I feel like that, also,
is like what’s happening here is also a global issue, right. Like, we are not
in our own silo. We are connected, right? This is a country built
on immigrants. And I think my father came here
when he was eight years old, and was a construction worker
his whole life. And the American dream
was not… he did not feel like
that was for him. Also, I mean, did you all hear
that there are four countries that have issued warnings
to folks coming into the U.S.? Did y’all hear about that? Four nations have issued
warnings– you know what
I’m talking about, yep– to folks coming into the U.S., specifically if you are
a black male. People are watching
what is happening here. Word. I want to welcome up
the incredible Michelle Garcia. Please give it up. (applause) – Hello. So, my name is Michelle Garcia. I’m 17 years old. I just very briefly
wanted to talk about the open mic series
that we’re starting. So I’m part of the MassLEAP’s “If You Can Feel It,
You Can Speak It” Books of Hope and House Slams
internship program. So, basically, it’s a collection
of teens around the bay… from around the bay area…
I mean Boston area… (laughs) …gathered together
to start workshops and start an open mic series just because
we really want to build a community of youth writers. And so our first open mic series
is going to be next Tuesday at 6:00, Makeshift Boston. Find me later for more details. So the mic is youth only, but everybody is welcome
to come and watch, and we invite you all to come. And Andrine and Kofi, who are also here
and also going to be performing, if they wanted to add anything,
they should. So the piece
I’m going to be doing is a brand new piece that
I just created about my mom. So it’s called
“My Bougie Mom Piece.” For those who don’t know
what “bougie” means, it usually means
somebody who thinks, like… They’re like… It’s kind of like stuck up
and arrogant. And I think that
there’s something to be said about the way we classify
women of color in our country and how the media portrays
women of color, and, like, just with everything
being Hispanic and all these immigration laws, I’ve been really
going through it. So I’m going to… My mom be bougie. Her nails stay did. Ain’t never been afraid
to throw down, like, you can catch these hands, too. My mom’s palms met God
on a Sunday. Have seen him let his guard down
and fed him prayer. She’s seen her mother’s hands
pick rice until her hands
bled opportunity. My mother has never been afraid
to get her hands dirty. Never cared
if her nails chipped. But she will always
get them done again. My mother’s walk will
let you know it’s happening. Will make you think that she
first learned the quick two-step of bachata. Like the cement
is her dance floor. Like the pavement isn’t trying
to get her, too. My mother is always
swinging her hips. Her figure knows why be an hourglass
when you can be a glass of wine? My mother drinks white wine
at the dinner table. No, Chardonnay tears
don’t stain. My mother drapes me
in champagne silhouettes. We don’t throw clothes away
in this house. We pass down our hand-me-downs. My mother makes mutiny mandatory
in every meal she makes. She folds up genocide
in her napkin and shoves it in her purse. My mother makes her survival
a stuck-up protest. Like she don’t care if you’re
going to call the cops. Like she’s still going
to hit her kids. Like my brother still got shot. Like she’s still trying
to mend my heart. My mother will pretend
like she’s not hurting, like she doesn’t cringe
at the headlines. Like she doesn’t think I’m next. My mother’s attitude is
unapologetically bougie. Will not excuse itself
from the table. Will not go eat in the kitchen. Will not thank you
for calling it “articulate.” And will let you know
what it’s like to be a woman in this country. How we don’t inherit survival. How we carry our attitude
in our carry-ons. So my mother stay bougie. Her nails stay did. She still ain’t afraid
to throw down. And she still stays woman. Thank you. (applause) – “Letter to Brock Turner.” – (unintelligible) There is something about you
that is familiar. I have seen the way
your privilege takes slaps. White boy with golden hair. Promised a full ride
to an Ivy League. Promised Olympic gold
for your speed. Promised the whole world. So of course you believe women
belong to you, too. I heard you were good
with water. With women. I heard you think
they were the same thing. You said her hands
beckoned you like coral reef. They brought you in
like tidal waves. You said you were drunk. But don’t you know how to swim? Aren’t you a shark? Isn’t that why you have
an appetite for our blood? Isn’t that why they prosecute
the survivor, not the predator? Because all men hold
the triton, all women are bait. Aren’t you used to this? Diving in head first. Not having to think twice. Isn’t this your instinct? Your inheritance? A family heirloom passed down
for generations. A legacy of wealth
white men built that keeps them safe,
that keeps them free? Did you know it can take
a woman her whole life to fall in love with her body? And you made her want
to remove hers like a wetsuit. To crawl out of the only place
that screamed home. Do you know what it’s like
to drown? To have your voice diluted? To be reduced to a puddle? To be turned into a droplet? To tears? I hope you drown in her sobs. I hope you choke on her salt. I hope karma swallows you
like a tsunami. What? I thought you could scream
underwater. (applause) – We just have about four or so
more pieces for you. Please put your hands together
for Kofi. (applause) – Hi, I’m Kofi Dadzie,
I’m 17 years old, and I’m a senior
at Westborough High School. And this poem is titled
“Nightstick.” I just want to kind of lay down
the groundwork for the poem because it sometimes seems
kind of hard to follow. So it’s the point of view
of police brutality from the point of view
of the baton. Yeah. I orchestrate brutality, but I never wanted to compose
the symphony. We batons fell into the role
masterfully, though. As blue Beethovens
adorned in badges used us to keep the beat
on black notes. It’s just that the syncopation
of their screams is always the hardest to hear. As it ends and repeats. Voices crescendo in agony
as we direct the masterpiece. We helped create a piece once. We titled him “Rodney.” Reduced his life to eight
minutes of mutilation, but that song got old
real quick, so we found new symphony halls, wherever bars kept black notes
in place. It’s hard to be a conductor
for the symphony, especially when they twirl you
like color guard on parade, eager and willing to direct
the next tune. See, we batons,
the color of midnight, turn black bodies
into battered heaps. Now, ain’t that
black-on-black crime? Are we just an officer’s
token black friend? Would he put us down the minute
we look threatening too? We do our best to quell
the rhythm of rebellion. We put rests on the voices
of colored women so we can play the same
tired tune over and over again. They never seem to get a solo. Only seen as a supplement
to a black man’s medley. The audience doesn’t seem
to like this piece anymore. America doesn’t seem
to like peace anymore. Black folk never wanted to be
in admittance. No, they never even
bought tickets, but they’ve been instrumental
in its creation. Unplugged from society, all we wanted to do
was make music. We never expected the dissonance
of black instruments to create the best melody,
yet keeping time on torture was something of a classical
arrangement for us. Like leaving bodies to hang
in the breeze like high notes. Like massacre is musical. So not for nothing, we have masterminded
the murder of a people, have masterminded the maiming
of a people because he who holds my hand
who wishes I were a whip misses the sound of its crack and decided to make music
instead. But who am I to judge
when I am cut from the same wood that decorates
that whip’s handle? We are tired of making songs
out of suffering. Of turning the altercations
between my maestro and black folk
into twisted duets. Remove me from his hand
before the body count rises like chord progression. We pray that this sees
a finale soon, but for now,
the show must go on. America always wants an encore. (applause) – When I say “we are,”
y’all say “powerful.” We are.
– Powerful. – We are.
– Powerful. – When I say “we want,”
y’all say “peace.” We want.
– Peace. – We want.
– Peace. – We are.
– Powerful. – We want.
– Peace. – Y’all are beautiful. Please give it up for Andrine! (applause) – Hi. I’m part of the Youth Internship that the wonderful Michelle
was talking about. So, I mean, everything
that she said was right. This is, like, the first year
that this is happening. It’s called the Third Eye
Mic Experience. We woke, we spoke, you know? (scattered cheering) Well, we worked really hard, and it would be really
amazing… It’s from 6:00 to 8:00? Yes, 6:00 to 8:00,
because we also want to watch out for the youth
and getting home and everything. So, yes, please enjoy this piece
that I wrote on my mother on her being an immigrant here
from Haiti. Yeah. The idea of America
wrapped my mother every night– wrapped her warm in stories
of better house, and jobs, and husbands who know
how to treat a woman, know to make her feel
a privilege, to let her raise their kids
and still teach a classroom. America bought her
a plane ticket. She thought for love
or for freedom or not. America met her at the gate, told her she’d need to burn
everything in her bag. America made himself husband
and stayed with her forever. This is not me
telling her story. This is me repeating
Sunday nights on the right side
of our wooden table. She smiles at all the memories,
even the bad ones, even of the stories
you left her with because then
she remembers her bed. And when she was little, she dreamt of lessons
she’d teach. How she imagined
of taking them overseas, coming home with gifts
for her family. But America don’t like her none,
but still won’t let her go. He’d rather give her
the permission to work only when he wants
to give her shifts. And what does
a nine-year-old girl do when her mother has to work
on her birthday? She sucks it up. Because being the only
of her mother’s kids… only of her mother’s kids
to live with her comes with responsibilities: to be okay with everything,
to be good at everything, to hold your mother
after a funeral because you’re the only one that
knows how hard she can fall, to stop crying because at least
you’ve held your mother, to stop crying because at least
America gave her a job, even if he’s boxed up all her
dreams and sent them back home. The only time my mother smiles
is when she talks about home. Not the one America gave her; the one where she… the one where her bed
still stands, where her pillow is stained
with child and dreams, or things that have died. A part of my mother has died,
but the body inside jumps a little
every time she tells a story. America gets a little scared every time she remembers
a story. America, listen to me. Wake the dead and speak life
into my mother’s story. (applause) – Keep that applause going
for Dubem. (applause) – Hi, I’m Dubem. How do I…
this is like new technology. I just… oh! Hi, I’m Dubem. I’m 17, from Urban Science
Academy. I’m not sure if I should wear
a hat in here, so I’m just going to wear it
like this. My teacher tells me
it’s a mistake to say that the Three-Fifths
Compromise means that a black man counts
for three-fifths of a white man. What the compromise
really means is letting people turn their tool
for divided labor into a human real quick. Compare today. Now, these tools come
in all shapes, tones, and sizes and they become human
for, like, an eternity, no longer object objectively. This is no longer a compromise. More war-torn understanding. More handshake with hidden cross
of fingers. This is contested, yet agreed. But something’s left unsettled. It’s pretty hard
to change a mindset. Apparently, we still haven’t
changed one. Hard work gets you the success
you want to achieve. The American dream. But there’s a little loophole
in this dream, a little life hack that makes
this dream turn nightmare, get people to do
all the hard work for you and don’t give them
any terms of thanks. However, this strategy
seems to be overused, become corporate theory,
become upper-class stratagem. Make dollars out of diamonds
in the rough. I am diamond adamant
about gold’s goal to make life golden goal
to keep family tight. I’m trying to achieve. We need to breathe. We diamond. Diamond. But not crown jewel,
believe me. Don’t doubt me
because I’m not an A-list. Because lack of reparations
to compromise, to lose who I am, is something I don’t want
to witness. (applause) – All right,
we have one more performer, and then a final group piece. I want you to give it up as loud
as you possibly can for Agnes! (applause) – Hi, I’m Agnes,
and I wrote this poem when I was thinking about, like,
what it means to be a woman in, like, my culture, and how just, like, women
of color from other cultures aren’t included in, like,
when we talk about feminism. There is so much empowerment
for, like, white feminists instead of women of color
feminists… I mean women of color women. Wait, no. I’m sorry, I’ll just…
I’ll just get to it. A 12-year-old girl
from my village was sold by her parents
to a man three times her age. A nine-year-old Cameroonian girl
had her breasts ironed to make her less desirable
to men. A six-year-old
Sudanese girl died after severe genital mutilation. Girls from countries like mine
know too well the price of womanhood is pain. If blood does not constantly
trickle down your thigh, you are still a child. Girls like me are too accustomed
to changing ourselves to achieve a culture’s
definition of woman. And it’s not just Africans. South Asian women are slowly
being exterminated, but I cannot speak for them,
so I ask, dear Pakistani woman, does your husband ask you if the kerosene
they doused you with matched the scent
of your perfume? Did your eyes glimmer
like the flame before he threw it at you? Did those flames dance
around your body so elegantly, you forgot your skin was
on fire? Was your death
the ultimate dowry? Dear Bangladeshi woman,
when your spouse told you he wanted to change
the way you looked, did you know acid was
the best beauty technique? That sulfuric acid
kissed your face better than your husband could. Could you feel your bones
corrode under your flesh? What did you do
to deserve that? Dear 12-year-old girl
from my village– do you remember my name? Does your husband
still beat you? You became a wife before a woman and you still don’t know
what that means yet. There is no sugar-coating
domestic abuse, how in my country,
it’s synonymous with the transition
of womanhood. But our screams are drowned out
by those of white feminists, our hashtags leave to make room for #FreeBleed
and #FreeTheNipple. Just because there’s
no translation for feminism in these countries doesn’t mean our problems
don’t deserve recognition. Don’t tell me I am trying
to separate the movement. The movement was separated
before it began. Don’t tell me I am trying
to start a war. What good are wars when half
your soldiers are already dead? This poem was created from the ashes of women
America doesn’t care about, was developed
in misogynistic villages, was created for that 12-year-old
girl in my village. This poem was not created
for your feminism. We do not need your feminism. We will not wait for an invite
to your protests while our girls are dying, because the most feminist thing
there will ever be is the silent screams
of dead women. (applause) Oh. – Okay, our poem is about
a Yoruba goddess named Oya. She is goddess of wind, and this is a letter
from her to white colonists. ♪ Take me, Oya ♪ ♪ Take me, Oya-ah-ah ♪ ♪ Take me, Oya… ♪ – Oya, Yoruba goddess
from Nigeria, responds to white colonists. (speaking Yoruba) – I am Oya, orisha, goddess of war,
goddess of storms. My name means “she tore.” What makes you think I will rip
up the ash beneath your feet? I’ve watched my children
get torn apart for far too long, watched their bodes plucked
off African trees to satisfy your hunger. You… (speaking Yoruba) White man. (speaking Yoruba) Have the audacity
to colonize my children. You feed off the flesh
of my daughters and laugh at her blood
between your legs. You have trampled
on African soil too many times, have bent their spines
to worship your face, have used parts of their ribcage
to support your plantations. You have killed my children. You have left their bodies
to hang in my winds. How dare you leave your corpses
on my doorsteps. You.
(speaking Yoruba) White man. (speaking Yoruba) Have documented
how many of my children have drowned in the Atlantic. Have calculated
how many of their bones have washed up on my soil. Have estimated how long it took
for my prayers to evaporate from their tongues. They don’t recognize
their own mother. They don’t hear me weep
in my winds. I attempt to piece back together their dismembered bodies
of my hurricanes. My destruction is how I cope. Now I am myth. I am juju, a curse,
a goddess of the wind. But who does the white man
pray to? Your Jesus is the bastard
black son of white supremacy. Always powdering his nose
and lynching himself to resemble your perfect
porcelain protection. Do your gods force foreign souls to cough up the blood
of its people? Do your gods trample
black bodies, too? Do you know who I am? I am Oya, orisha,
goddess of war. I scoop broken bodies
with my bare hands. I cleanse their corpses
in my waves. I turn their bodies
into my uterus for rebirth. My children now caskets filled with broken languages
and misplaced cultures. Hold rosary in one hand,
crucifix in the other. They don’t remember
how to pray to me. You have cast my children
with amnesia. How dare you whitewash
all the God within them! I’ll show you why they call me
queen of tempests. I’ll devour you by tsunamis. I’ll burn your missionary
prayers back into their throats. I’ll build new altars
from your skeletons. I’ll cut open my veins
and put my wrath in your lungs. I could have crushed
your slave ships on the shores of Abeokuta. I could have smashed
your skulls in before you deemed this holy land
“Nigeria.” I could have drowned
your children. But I am a god. ♪ Take me, Oya ♪ ♪ Take me, Oya-ah-ah ♪ ♪ Take me, Oya ♪ ♪ Take me, Oya-ah ♪ (applause) – If everyone who performed
wants to come up and sit on the stage
and join me. Yeah. (applause) Give it up one more time
for all the performers. So we are going to have
a short Q&A session. I have a couple of questions
that I want to ask, and then I want to open it up
to everyone here. I also want to say to… I feel like
I should be facing you. I also want to say thank you
to everyone who performed. Y’all were amazing. And don’t feel like you,
every single one of you, if you’re not pulled to,
has to answer every question. I would just say
answer the questions that you feel like
you’re pulled to. And the same kind of norms
that we talk about in terms of, like, thinking
about how much you’re speaking or how little you’re speaking. Like, make sure that you
step forward or step back. Does that make sense? Cool. So first I just wanted to ask,
why did you start writing? Dubem? – Do I have to get up? – No, no.
– Okay. Okay, I started, like…
writing poetry, right? So I started writing
because I was in school, and in school, they have
a poetry curriculum in the writing. And they said to write a poem,
and I said, “Okay,” and that’s how it started. – Okay. Anyone else? Andrine, and then…
or Nilaijia. – I started writing because
instead of getting extra loud and expressing myself
in all the wrong ways, I got a notebook, pen,
and made it happen. And I was doing this for years,
and then I came to Match, and my wonderful poetry coach
Tony DelaRosa, he started this
Boston Pulse Club, and it got me into getting
my voice out there. (laughter) – Let me hand this back to you. I can’t reach. – I, like, started poetry
in, like, probably the worst times in my life. And, like, I was… I didn’t even really think
of poetry before then. I didn’t speak much at all,
even. I barely spoke during the day. And I had a teacher at my school
who had a club, and she… it was
for high schoolers, and I was in, like, fifth grade
or sixth grade, and she invited me
to the high school to come in and write with, like,
11th and 12th graders, and I watched them
and I wrote with them. And I started using
a file cabinet, and now I have a whole
file cabinet of my work at home, just poems. (mic cutting out, no audio) Yeah. (laughter) Yeah, about that. Yeah, I have a book called
“Even Peers Speak to Me.” It just came out this month. I did it through Books of Hope. And it was… I mean, it was fun. I definitely got
a lot more support on it. I’m almost sold out out of the hundred copies
that I had had before, so I’m, you know,
I’m feeling good, you know? So, yeah. And, you know, I got them
in, like, two libraries. So it’s working. – And, you know, I think Andrine
might have a couple copies here, you know, just saying. Kofi. – I started writing
because of, like, a program that came to my school
through MassLEAP. So Alex… where is Alex? He’s here somewhere. But, anyway,
Alex came to my school and did a week-long workshop
when I was in eighth grade, and they started
with a poetry slam. And he comes through, like,
“My name is Alex, I like to get loud
in libraries.” And I was kind of like, “What?” And then I had been
writing music beforehand, and up until then, I had never
really thought of poetry as anything more than that stuff
Robert Frost writes and puts in poetry units
for me to read and silently dislike,
but that’s just me. And then I kind of just
kept writing, and Alex really did support me
in that. And then I came
to the high school, and around spring, Louder Than a Bomb
time to come around, and my school’s team
needed a fourth member and they pulled me on, and I’ve been writing
and performing ever since. – So to follow up with that
question, do you think… or do y’all think
that writing is connected to social change
or not, and why? Let’s go with… – So, for me, it’s like,
it helped a lot because… (clears throat) It helped a lot because I was,
like, that one kid who sat in the back of class and did not like
to raise their hand. But at lunchtime,
I was up and ready and I was talking with everyone. Even if they didn’t want
to listen to me, they would have to listen to me because I was the loudest kid
in class, so too bad for them. Sorry for right now,
sorry/not sorry, but… It, like, helped me
because I like writing and I like music a lot, and poetry really helps me
with that. Like, I don’t have to, like,
yell it out. I can just write it on paper. And it helps me
with social issues because, like, I can talk more
to people now. Like, before, I was really shy
to talk to people, and now I’m up and ready
to talk to everybody. You come to me, we’re going to have
a conversation for three days. I’m just warning y’all
right now. – Okay, Kingsley? – So… (clears throat) Sorry. So I think that writing
really has a big part… like, like social change
really has to do with writing because I feel like
with the youth today, a lot of people don’t have… a lot of people do have a voice, but they don’t have a way
to express their voice, and I feel like writing
allows us to express our voice
in our art form. So having these different
open mics and having these different
performances, it allows us to, like,
speak about the things that we’re really
passionate about, and social change is something
that all of us are really passionate about. So I feel like writing
and performing is a gateway to, like,
show what you believe in. So, yeah. And also, I, like,
started writing because… it was kind of weird. I started writing by listening
to J Cole, like, his songs, his old songs where he would just talk
about deep things, and I tried to emulate
his style, so I started, like, rapping. But then in ninth grade,
we had this poetry club, and all three of us were in it–
me, Topei, and Michelle. And, I don’t know,
ever since then, ever since we got introduced
to Louder Than a Bomb, we just started to enjoy writing
even more, and enjoy performing. So, you know, I think
Louder Than a Bomb, and I think J Cole,
if you’re out there… (laughing) I thank them for, you know,
helping me out with this. – So I feel like
one important thing that I always think about is,
like, where would we be without Baldwin or Angelou
or Achebe? Like, these are the writers
that have, like, have been the fuel
to social change, like, even today,
and so it’s like… The thing is, nobody really… unless you’re, like,
in a position of power, most people don’t care
about what you have to say, and performing and writing
gives you… gives you a way to say
exactly what you want to say in a way that will make people
listen to you. And I feel like that’s something
that I think before… before I was a performer,
before I was a writer, I struggled to actually get
my opinions out there just because I was shy and I felt like I wasn’t…
what I was saying wasn’t valid. And I feel like poetry
and writing has given me a level
of self-validation and makes me feel like when
you’re in a writing community, it makes you feel less alone because you know
there’s people out there that are not only
going to validate you, but empathize with you
and tell you, like, “You know, I don’t know what
that is to go through that, “but I feel you
and I’m here for you, and we stand in solidarity,” and that’s where
social change happens. (applause, snapping) – Topei, do you want to say
something real quick? Oh, you were just… – Like, as far as poetry goes
and promoting social change, I remember later, like,
earlier on this year, when we did our group poem
at LTAB, it was about our school and a lot of the things
that we saw. And we were talking about, like,
a bunch of things, like how the roofs
were falling down, and, like, the environment, like the general environment
being in the school. And as far as poetry goes, poetry has a lot of power
to, like, communicate something, because when you’re performing
something, you’re standing on a stage
in front of a bunch of people and you’re saying something,
like, a lot of times, like, I believe poetry is saying
something to yourself, but when we’re actually doing it
for a cause we’re saying it to other people, then it’s like the audience
is now intended for something more
than ourselves. And our group poem was… it was, like, directed at BPS,
because we wanted change. We were tired
of the school environment that we were staying in. That actually had
some type of effect because we were able
to make contact with Boston public schools, and we were able
to talk with them about the things going on
in our school, and we’re actually working
with them right now to see if some of those things
can change. So as far as poetry
having the power to actually make change,
I believe that is very true because more than performance,
art is a way of communication, because if you do poetry and you have a message
to put out there that is meant for other people
other than yourself and people take the time
to listen, then it’s like… like you said, it was like
a form of dialect, almost. It was almost like we were
speaking for the audience we intended to perform for,
I guess. Yeah, it promotes change,
like, super. (snapping) – Topei. – I think in terms of poetry
being a form of social change, I like to think a lot about,
as Michelle said, James Baldwin, and I also think of Nina Simone. So the poem that I wrote,
“Blackbird,” about my little sister, was based off of Nina Simone’s
song “Blackbird,” and to think about how
black women in society, especially in terms
of police brutality, are not spoken about, and black women being the most
disrespected people in America, and how everybody wants
black woman features, but no one wants to actually be
a black woman. It’s something that I think
about so much in my writing, and I feel like before
I started writing, like, poetry, I had all these emotions
about being darker, about having sisters who I see
are bullied about their hair. I’m Nigerian American,
so when they saw, like, our rice,
or when they saw our food, they were like,
“Oh, what’s that?” But now you see being
West African being a trend, and everyone wants to wear
dashikis, and it’s, like,
I had all these feelings. And I feel like
when I started writing, I was just like,
“Oh, it’s not just me.” Like, there are other women
who look just like me who are going
through the same thing. And when I speak,
when I say Sandra Bland, when I say Aiyana Jones,
when I say these names, when I say Rekia Boyd, I am bringing these women
the attention they need because a lot of times, black women who are shot
are forgotten about. And I think that
one of Nina Simone’s most important quotes I remember
is that as an artist, you need to reflect the times
that you live in. And all of my poetry,
I try to reflect what it’s like to be a black woman
in the 21st century, to live… you know,
to see a black president, but also to see a man like
Donald Trump run for presidency and see how much fame
he’s getting for it. So I think writing is so much
about social change, and in order to be
an effective artist, you need to reflect the times
that you live in in order to speak
for your generation, but in order to show
the rest of the world, like, what it is
to be a black woman. – All right. So I just have one
or two more questions, and I want to go to the piece about the election
that’s coming up. And I just wanted to ask y’all if you had one thing
that you could tell folks who are able to vote right now, what is one thing that you
would say to them or ask them? (laughs) Nilaijia. – This is one topic
I feel very strongly about. Okay, so Donald Trump, um… He is supporting stop and frisk, and you people
who are able to vote want to vote for him,
and he’s going to stop us. And he wants to stop us
and he wants to frisk us. What if we’re innocent? It’s like you’re talking about trying to make America
great again, and with this man, you’re not making it
great again. You’re just making it worse. So one thing I would say
to people who want to vote is please be smart,
use common sense, make the right decision,
do not vote for Donald Trump. Please don’t, because it’s not
making America great again. What are you trying
to accomplish, voting for a man who doesn’t care about people
that are not like him? All he cares about is money, giving people power
who already have power. But what about the people
who don’t have a lot of power? What are you going to do
with them? You’re just going to help
the people who don’t need help and leave the people who do
on the streets. I don’t understand. How is that making America
great again? Don’t make no sense. – Go ahead. Go ahead. – Um, like what she said, Donald Trump is not
really helping anyone. And if you’re going to vote,
please choose wisely because you don’t know
who you’re voting for, because everyone,
no matter what they say, they could be lying to you. They could be, like,
putting up for election and they could be saying things
that they will never do. They’re like,
“Oh, I’ll help with you this. I’ll make more jobs happen,
I’ll do this, I’ll do this,” but you don’t know
what they’re gonna do, because that’s what they say, and you can’t always trust
what people say. And with Donald Trump, like, why would you really vote
for him? You heard what he says. You know that he says
idiotic things, and no matter what he says, I think people are usually
voting for him because they think it’s funny,
but it’s honestly not funny. He wants to build a wall, but, really, how are you going
to build a wall? How are you going to try
to kick all the Mexicans out? You can’t kick
all the Mexicans out. If you want to kick
the Mexicans out, kick the Mexicans states out…
(audio cuts out) You’re gonna lose out…
you’re gonna lose those too. And you want to kick all the
people who are immigrants out? They helped you build
this country. Like, Native Americans,
you want to kick them out, too? Who’s the one who found
this country first? It’s not you,
it’s not Columbus, it’s not any of those people
who decided to “find” America. It’s the people who came here
first on foot, not by boat. They came here on foot. They were here first. – I’m just going to plug
my poem real quick. So I wrote a poem recently
about the debate between Hillary and Trump, and I compared their campaign
plans to pairs of pants. Now, I used to be, you know,
the guy that says, “Trump, why would you vote
for him?” But I’ve learned that, you know, I don’t really know, like,
what he’s… like, it may be not even true. And sometimes what Clinton says
might not even be true. So I think it’s really…
it’s up to what you believe in. If you want to vote for Trump,
I mean, go ahead. I’ve seen some good things
that he’s said. It was really small,
but I saw, like, one. I saw some bad things
that Clinton said. It was more than one. I think you should also
keep an eye for the vice presidents, too, because I don’t know anything
about them. – I think one of the biggest
things during this election is that people
just don’t want to vote that are eligible to vote. And if I could say something
to eligible voters, I would say please vote. Vote for me. Vote for the young men and women
that attend my schools who aren’t eligible to vote yet. Vote for the kids walking
around your neighborhood who will be affected
by this vote later on. You know, think about us. I know that it’s going to be
difficult this year because we’re not really given
such great choices, but just choose wisely because know that your choice
is going to affect someone else. – Just voting on the big scale,
like the presidential election, but voting
in your local elections and voting
in smaller elections, too, it’s really important because
the fact of the matter is even though the president is, in terms
of the executive branch, is supposed to be enforcing
the Constitution or whatever, what happens in your state, like, in your towns
and your communities aren’t necessarily always
at the forefront of what’s being talked about
in the national spotlight. Another thing: just don’t fuel
ignorance with your voting. Make sure you’re doing
your research. Don’t go in blindly because you maybe agree
with one or two things. You need to understand
everything before you go forth
and put all your chips on one man or one woman or one elected official
or anybody, really. You just have to go forth and understand and comprehend
everything that’s going on before you go forth, and just… Because that’s the thing:
a vote is powerful. The number of votes that
each person gives, it’s one, but that one vote holds
tremendous merit. You just have to use it wisely. – Great, all right. Well, I’m going to open it up
to the audience. There’s a lovely person
right here with a mic and a person right there
with a mic. If you have any questions
you’d like to ask this incredible panel
of young people who I just want to listen to
all day on repeat. – How long did it take you guys to write that last group poem
that you read? Because that was, like, one of the most powerful
group poems I’ve ever seen, and I was curious
about your process. – So, we… Portia is our coach
for Brave New Voices, and Portia is
a very dedicated woman who forces us to work very,
very hard. And we basically had practice,
like, on a daily basis, and we were just thinking
about ancestry and how we want to bring in our
West African, like, forefront, because the team
predominantly was, like, me, Agnes, Timu, who’s not here,
and Kofi are all West African, and Michelle’s Dominican,
so it was like… Yes, she repped the DR for us. We were thinking about just
bringing in our heritage. And it took us about a couple
practices to write it, but it was a fusion
of what I was thinking when I was thinking about Oya
and what Agnes was thinking. And it took a lot of, like,
research of, like, asking our parents,
“Who is Oya?” Because we’re both Yoruba,
we come from the same tribe, so we asked our parents…
oh, you’re Ibo! Sorry. I’m Yoruba, she’s Ibo. We come from tribes where,
I mean, we’re still Nigerian, so that’s… (laughter) Okay. We’re all Nigerian,
that’s… basically. I’m sorry, I’m talking a lot. But yeah, the blocking, though, took a little while
to get everything done. And the singing came
from, like, other songs that we were inspired by. Agnes wants to add something. – I think I wanted
to write a poem that was just, like,
had both of our cultures in it. And also, how many goddess poems
are there? How many spiritual poems
do you see? And having a spiritual poem
that talks about a topic that, like, may have happened,
like, years ago that still impacts, like,
the lives of the people who live in countries
that were colonized. I think that the way
that we talk about the topic of colonization,
in just a unique, spiritual way, I don’t think anyone’s
ever done that before, and we’re proud to be
the first people to do that. – My question is for Kofi. I wanted to know the process and also the inspiration
for your poem. – So when I was creating
the “Nightstick” piece, I was really… I had written,
like, my first persona piece embodying an object or person
that isn’t me, and I kind of fell in love
with that idea. And what’s written…
something Amanda said to me when I was looking to write
a new piece was, what kind of things
never really get a voice? And you hear about police
brutality all the time, and you see it in poetry
very frequently, but you see it from similar
points of views, whether it’s, like, somebody
that’s seeing it happen or it’s kind of… or just telling the story
of something that’s happened, but you never really hear
about the instrument. And something that Portia, our coach that works us
incredibly hard and gives us all this influence
and inspiration, was talking about…
has this whole mantra about not using
the master’s tools, and in a society that has
a police force that uses brutality to try to,
like, discipline its citizens, that doesn’t make sense to me,
so I wanted to hear something from the point of view
of the object that’s been made to do this. – I know you guys are already
talking about Trump and how you feel about him,
but more specifically, how do you feel about, like,
the Black Lives Matter movement and what he thinks about it? – So I think
he doesn’t really care about the Black Lives Matter
movement because he’s very egotistical. He’s really, I think, running
for the election for power, for money, and for being more,
like, famous. And I don’t think… I think he will only, like,
lie to the people by saying he cares about the
Black Lives Matter movement, But he honestly doesn’t,
as what he showed to us. – So I feel like
there’s a lot to be said not only about Trump, but also about the portrayal
of the media and the people who are behind
the media as well who are in similar positions
as Trump, who are wealthy men
who have privilege. And so I feel like
a lot of times, the media makes the… the way that they portray
the Black Lives Matter movement is to be this, like,
violent movement that’s very malicious,
and out here to, like, say that one race
is better than the other when that’s really not the case. And I feel like… So a lot of the times
in these protests, they’ll show lootings, and then they’ll show, like,
all this violence, but then they fail to show the peaceful protest
that’s going on, or the six peaceful protests
that are going on. And they’re not even… a lot of times,
they’re making it seem like, “Well, these people, look
at what these people are doing.” And it’s like, “What?” Do you know how much… Do you even understand, like,
a lot of the people making this commentary
aren’t people who are… are people
in positions of privilege who don’t have to deal with this
constant fear every single day? And, like, even…
there’s something to even say with the, like,
All Lives Matter movement. It’s like, nobody was saying
all lives matter until people were saying
black lives matter, and you know why that is? It’s because people
are always trying to discredit the black community and everything
that they stand for because that’s what it is. It’s not that all lives
don’t matter. Obviously, every individual life
as people matter. But that’s not what we’re
talking about right now. That’s not what’s important
right now. And I feel like Trump is
in the position where he has the power
to do something. He has something that
a lot of us don’t have, which is privilege
and a whole lot of money. And think about what it is that
he’s actually doing with that and how he’s using his power
and his voice to portray all these
low-level communities that aren’t getting
the same benefits that he is. – So now, I don’t do a lot
of very in-depth research about Trump. I’ve seen him say one comment about the Black Lives Matter
movement, which is that we are divisive. Now, when I heard this,
I was upset, but I think… but now
I know the reason why. I feel it’s because he’s, like,
not well-researched, either. I feel like he’s just the view,
kind of like what Michelle said, he’s the view of the people
who see the bad parts, just the looting
and the violence of it, and not go deep in to see
what we’re really all about, and because of that,
he has that opinion, and because he has
this public face, that just ruins him even more. What was your question again? Because that’s just what
I was thinking in my head. What was your question again? – How you feel
about what he’s saying about the Black Lives Matter
movement. – Oh, okay. So before, I was mad about it, but now I’m like, “Maybe
you should, like, Google it.” – I agree
with what Michelle said. I was on Facebook one day,
and I saw this post, and it said,
“Black Lives Matter…” It was about the All Lives
Matter thing. It says,
“We said ‘black lives matter,’ not ‘only black lives matter,'” which means we didn’t say
that black lives are the only lives that matter. When you say that
black lives matter, we mean that we matter more…
well, we don’t matter more, but we matter just as much
as everybody else does. We’re not meaning to say that we
matter more than other people. We just want to be represented because we’re not
being represented much because, like, to the point
where it becomes regular to see a black man
getting shot down in the news, that’s just something
disgusting. I’m at the point when I’m not
surprised at it anymore, and that’s something
that needs to change. But as far as Donald Trump and what he thinks of the Black
Lives Matter movement, I don’t think he’s prejudiced
against black people. I think he has
his own prejudices. I don’t think he’s racist
is what I meant to say. He probably has his own
prejudices. I don’t know the man personally,
and I frankly don’t care. But, basically, I just think
that he wants to use it as a tool to get him
into the election. He just wants to say
what people want to hear in regards to that topic. Just like a hostile takeover, everybody is going to eat
Icee pops. All right, if I want people
to like me, I’m going to buy Icee pops and I’m going to bring it over
to my side so people come
running over to me. That’s how I think he sees it. I think he sees it as, like,
a business thing, because if he really…
like, from the presidential… like, from the presidential
debate, nobody really… nobody elaborated on the topic. Hillary kind of scratched
the surface, but… Yeah, black people rule. But like, yeah, Donald Trump
didn’t really touch upon it. I just really think he wants
to use it as a tactic to flock people over to him. But what ended it for me
was when he said the stop-and-frisk thing
was a good thing when it really wasn’t. But how I feel about it,
I don’t really… I don’t really think
either of them are particularly advantageous
for us. I think we’re still going to be
where we are. I don’t really think it’s
on anybody’s head, especially those two. I don’t think it’s
on either of their heads to promote… advance for us. I think we have to do it
on our own. And that’s like a lot of things
with this world, you have to end up doing it
on your own. So if we want to make change
for ourselves, we’re gonna have to do it
ourselves. So, as far as what
Donald Trump thinks, I don’t really think
that is something we should be worried about. – I think that this
all ties back to all the stereotypes
that black people and African Americans have faced
throughout all the years. Like, what you… if you walk
into one of our neighborhoods, what you think you see is
a bad neighborhood, and everybody… there’s crime everywhere,
and people are dying. There’s just fights and drugs
and that’s, like… that’s not every neighborhood,
though. You just can’t think about us
like that. Tying it back to Donald Trump,
I think that, like you said, it’s not the first thing
that he really thinks about. He has…
he has his Trump Tower. He has all this money,
he has all this privilege. You think we’re going to be
the first thing that he’s thinking
about right now? Obviously not. So I feel like, like he said, if we want to do something
about it, we have to make the change because it’s our black lives
that do matter. And I feel like him
as president, what is he going to really do
for our lives? Nothing he can really do, because he has not witnessed
a struggle at all. Not at all. He can’t even say…
he can’t even connect. He doesn’t know. He don’t know. So if we want, like…
and all lives do matter, but if we want to change, like, if we want to change
what’s going on, we have to take a stand. We have to change. It’s not just going
to come to us. We have to go to it. That’s it, I’m done. – All right, please give it up
one more time, loud, for these incredible young kids. (applause) – Hi, I’m Sarah Yezzi, I’m in the education department
here at the institute, and I just want to thank you,
the youth poets, for sharing your perspectives
and your powerful words and your profound talent
with us tonight. Thank you so much
for being here. Thank you to Amanda and Alex for working with us
to make tonight happen, and thank you to all of you
for coming. We’d like to invite you
to join us in the lobby for some refreshments
and conversation, and also to participate
in another piece of art created by young people:
our collaborative mural created by Artists for Humanity
youth artists. So thank you very much.

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