Coming of Age

Youth Speaks is turning a corner. The program, started 15 years ago, sees teenagers — many of them from low-income, inner-city areas — taking hold of issues that matter most to them and shaping those feelings into spoken-word pieces. They simultaneously learn the art of writing and performing while also becoming more informed and getting a taste of community organizing and political activism. They compete throughout the year at poetry slams, and in doing so learn discipline and social skills. “One of the basic tenets of the organization is that young people need to be empowered, and that empowerment is political,” says John B. Hill, a spokesman for the group. “The expression of that voice is an inherently political act.” One of Youth Speaks’ original members was Hodari Davis, who is now the organization’s national program director. Tonight at the Teen Poetry Grand Slam Finals his son, Obasi Davis — who was born the year the group started — becomes the first “legacy” student to compete in this event. He is among 16 teenagers taking the stage, six of which will go on to a July event called Brave New Voices. One will be named grand slam champion. Obasi, a Berkeley High School freshman, was among some 500 students who sought a trip to the finals. Poetry and performing aren’t his only activities — he’s also a pitcher for his school’s baseball team. We’d love to hear some of the chatter he deals his opponents from the dugout.
Fri., May 20, 7 p.m., 2011

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