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