Saturday, July 31, 2010

Austin's Brave New Voices move LA crowds

Austin's under-21 poetry slam team, "They Speak," competed this month in the Brave New Voices International slam finals held in Los Angeles. They spoke - and then some. Big, big congratulations to Austin's team! Check out the report sent this morning by Ron and Sheila at the Texas Youth Word Collective:

To Our Beloved Poetry Family and Wonderful Supporters:

We are back from Los Angeles and the 2010 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival. Now that we have had a night or two of sleep since BNV, I wanted to make sure that we informed our community of supporters what happened out in LA and how the team did. I should say from the outset that this year’s team is one of the best we have ever had, taking nothing away from teams of previous years. They showed great camaraderie, class, grace, passion, devotion, and dedication, all in ways that were surprising and inspiring. These young people demonstrated levels of maturity, sportsmanship, and respect for people and the art form that many adults in the poetry community could learn a lot from.

On Monday, the team arrived at Occidental College, located between Pasadena and Glendale, California. Occidental is a gorgeous campus in the LA mountains, flush with beautiful trees, huge flowers, and interesting southwestern architecture. The team met up with hundreds of other teenage writers and performers from across the country. Shay, as four time member of Austin’s youth slam teams, and veteran of BNV, served as the team’s ambassador and liaison with the other teams. They attended the Opening Ceremonies for BNV, and had a wonderful time interacting with the rest of the youth at the Festival.

Tuesday, the team members attended all-day writing workshops by such nationally recognized writers/performers as Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Kennedy Center), QueenGodIs, Robbie Q Taylor, among others. Notable, to me, on Tuesday was our team captain, Shay, passing on competing in The People’s Champion individual youth spoken word competition to make sure she was prepared to give her best performance for her team. As it turns out, this would be the first of her many selfless acts during the course of BNV.

Wednesday, in the BNV Quarter Finals, the They Speak Youth Slam Team came in second in both of their bouts. In their first bout, the team went up against teams from Los Angeles, Guam, Ann Arbor, and Nashville. This was an extremely competitive bout, with an amazing solo performance in the last spot in the last round by Nashville that helped them win the bout. In They Speak’s second bout, they went up against Detroit, Denver, Stockton CA, Delaware. In this bout, the team came in second to Denver, a team which made the Final Stage (and I’ll have something more to say about them a little later).

Later Wednesday night, the They Speak Team competed in the finals of the Robert Redford Center’s Speak Green competition, hosted by former Obama Administration environmental advisor Van Jones. The top three scorers at this competition would go on to perform at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Austin’s was the only team/ensemble performance in the competition against eleven other performers. They Speak, in a word, ROCKED it!!!! The audience cheered as the team gave a flawless performance of a poem comparing the abuse of the environment and the kidnapping and trafficking of young women into prostitution. Powerful, poignant, and eye-opening are the only ways to describe their performance. While the team did not score high enough to make Sundance, they have already been requested to perform at the Life is Living Festival in Houston later this year as a result of their making and performing in Speak Green. NO team in the history of our organization has ever qualified, much less performed in Speak Green. Performers at Speak Green have gone on to perform at the White House. More importantly, as a result of the team’s two high scoring second place showings (missing first place in each by less than 1½ points) it was announced at the end of Speak Green that the team qualified for the Semi Finals of BNV.

In their semi-final bout, They Speak Austin went up against Phoenix, Stockton, Albuquerque, and Houston. It was a phenomenal bout, a very close competition. Austin was the final team in the final round of the bout. The team was prepared to do Homebound, an incredible group piece where Shay, the team captain, is center stage and the rest of the team perform their parts from different locations in the audience. Everyone was in position to perform when, out of the blue, the Captain called an audible, and instead of performing her last poem EVER at BNV (she will not be eligible to make our youth team after this year), she said, “I know ya’ll think I am going to do a poem, but I am so proud of my teammate who has grown and progressed so much since she made the team, so I want to give the baby of our team the stage.” And with that Shay, our three-time team champion and four time team member, relinquished her last performance opportunity, giving a solo performance to the youngest member of the team, Lauren “Zuri” Hendricks (the next generation of youth poets in our community), while her mother, Elisa, looked on, crying the whole time. Zuri did her poem “Mamma’s Hands”, a personal poem about her grandmother.

So, as you might imagine, I'm VERY, VERY, VERY proud of our team. They were the embodiment of the principles we seek to promote: teamwork, hard work, and commitment to the craft and the youth spoken word movement. Big ups to the Teen Titans: Shay, as team captain and leader, Zack, Sheenika, Zuri, and their incredible coach, Christopher Michael. They were winners today, tomorrow, and forever!!!!!!!! You all made all of our work worthwhile.

Also, BIG thanks to The Mammas: Sheenika's mom, Monica, for chaperoning and keeping Sheila and I in stitches the whole time, Zuri's mom, Elisa, for single-handedly raising a boat load of dough to get the team out here (and dancing like it's 1999), and Zack's mom, Diane, for making the pizza run after the night of the Semis and shuttling the team to LAX! Thanks as well to Harold Hendricks aka Daddy Do Stuff, for running the kids to practices and performances. Also big thanks to Cesar and Sherri Taylor for their very generous last minute donation that provided us with the money in time to buy the team’s airline tickets. All of you are absolute blessings to us. And, of course, big thanks to our poetry slam family: Neo Soul, APS, KPS, 2nd Verse, Spoken and Heard, and all of you that came to the features, bought CD's, and made donations to the cause in person and online. There is a special place in Heaven for all of you.


Ron & Sheila
Texas Youth Word Collective

photo by makingpeace

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Banner Day

A new banner for us...
Inaugurated today at Hart's workshop at the national convention of Iraq Veterans Against the War taking place this weekend in Austin ...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Farms, Not Arms

Thanks to Thomas Heikkala for sending along this article about a recent career fair held in Los Angeles by the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

Transitioning from Fighting to Farming

by Rebecca Kheel, Santa Monica Daily Press, July 1, 2010

DOWNTOWN — Phil Northcutt's path to agricultural work was a self-described "wild story" and "spiritual journey."

Northcutt joined the U.S. Marine Corps after finding work in the music industry unsatisfying. He came back from Iraq a few years ago injured and in pain and became addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol. He then got a doctor's recommendation to take medical marijuana for his pain. But aside from using the medical marijuana, he began growing and running a co-op himself. For his marijuana activities, he found himself spending a year in jail.

Though growing marijuana got Northcutt in trouble, it ultimately led him to his real passion: agriculture.. Northcutt is now studying organic farming at Santa Rosa Junior College and works at a horse stable at the college's Shone Farm. His dream is to own a 4,000-acre sustainable ranch where he can train other veterans in agriculture and farming.

"I realized working with plants I got a level of satisfaction that I couldn't get doing other things," he said.

As a sign of his support for veterans going into the agricultural industry, Northcutt attended a career fair Wednesday at the Santa Monica Civic Center hosted by the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), a nonprofit organization that connects veteran farmers and helps veterans seeking employment in the farming industry.

"There's [a lot of these] organizations, 'Veterans this' and 'Veterans that,' and they're not all really helping us. A lot of them are just out there advertising and taking money," Northcutt said. "But what Michael [O'Gorman, the executive director and founder of FVC,] is doing here is really one of these organizations where he's got a good group of people out here doing their stuff, and they're doing real [stuff] to help veterans. They're really taking a personal interest."

Approximately 100 veterans and 75 exhibitors gathered at the Civic Center for FVC's second career fair, the first in Santa Monica. Tables from farms and agricultural businesses run by veterans, as well as organizations that support veterans, were set up throughout the auditorium for attendees to learn about and express interest in volunteer or career opportunities.

After getting the FVC fully up and running in February, 2009, O'Gorman said he would get calls from individual veterans looking for work on a farm in July, August or September, times farmers do not need farmhands. Instead of fielding one veteran's request at a time, O'Gorman decided to hold a career fair in Santa Rosa in March, the beginning of the farming season, to help more veterans at once and educate them on farming needs and practices.

"These guys aren't your normal farmers. They're going to be the leaders in the next generation of farming," O'Gorman said of a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans standing behind him during an introductory speech Wednesday. "They're proactive, they're ingenious, they're creative, they got hardcore stamina."

Bringing the fair to Los Angeles, an area not typically recognized for its agriculture, presented difficulties in finding groups to participate, O'Gorman said. So the FVC expanded the fair to include all stages of food production, such as produce distribution and retail.

The unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ages 18 to 24 is approximately 30 percent, or 250,000 people, according to the FVC. Farming provides a growing and necessary field for veterans to find employment in, one that will also help curb the rate and effects of post traumatic stress disorder, said Shad Meshad, the founder and president of the National Veterans Foundation, who attended the fair.

"It's like a domino effect," Meshad said. "People go, 'What do jobs have to do with PTSD?' Well, it could play a part, particularly if you have readjustment issues, and you can't find a job, and you have a wife, and you have a child, and you have a house to pay for. I don't know of any other way you can solve that. We have to have jobs."

Aside from helping veterans find careers, the fair provided an opportunity for veterans already in agriculture to build a community and learn from each other, said Jason Rich, a Navy veteran who works with Hungry Mother Organics, an organic produce company in Carson City, Nev. At the fair, Rich met Colin Archipley, a Marine Corps veteran who founded Veteran's Sustainable Agriculture Training, and learned about his use of bio-hydroponics as a sustainable farming practice, which he said he will try to use in his work now.

Tom Schoettler came to the career fair as a veteran friend of Northcutt's. He grew up on a farm, and although he did not originally want to work on his family's farm, he said he now hopes to take over the operation one day. In the meantime, Schoettler wants to learn about other opportunities in agriculture.

"There should be a thousand more of these everywhere around here," he said. "It's good for me to know there's other people out there that are in the same position I'm in and that are looking to do the same things that I'm interested in."
photo by Susanna Frohman, from the Farmer Veteran Coalition site