From the Page to the Stage: Be Heard

I have heard so many times growing up that there is no money in writing. Yeah, you’re good. But where is it going to take you? Reading, writing, and books just aren’t that interesting – and so many other comments about writing and reading, not just novels but poetry too. These sentiments have not stopped as I’ve got older.  Maybe you’re one of those people that agree and haven’t come across a piece of literature that has moved you. You may not have been exposed to writing that is not technical or academic. Maybe you think writing is a talent but not what can give you a fulfilling career. The truth is some of us, especially young people, don’t write for money? Some of us don’t even have an interest in becoming wealthy or famous writers. Some of us were just young and got lucky in our efforts to get free.

In my personal efforts, I came across an organization called TruArtSpeaks. They are an arts based non-profit organization that cultivates literacy, leadership, and social justice through the study and application of spoken word and Hip Hop culture. At sixteen years old I took part in their largest youth program called Be Heard. It is a statewide youth poetry slam series that seeks to identify a cohort of 6 young people between the ages of 13-19 to represent Minnesota in an international poetry slam competition. If you are not familiar with a poetry slam, it’s a competition where people come on stage for 3 minutes and 30 seconds and share their own original work. 5 judges give a score between 1 – 10 (1 being the low and ten being the high) and the highest and lowest score is dropped. Recently, they have decided that instead of going to the festival they offer $500 to the cohort to continue their education along with giving writing and performance workshops the entire summer. By the end of the summer, they create their own manuscript ready for publishing along with support from Graywolf press.

The award for the 6 that end up on the team is amazing. But the real success is what it does for these young people in their personal and professional life. The juice is what this program has helped them discover about themselves. Be Heard has taught many to dig deep into who they are and want to be and demand the change they want to see and live in. It has taught many at a young age that they have peers that care about the same things and adults who want to listen. It has created space for community to prioritize young people and eventually those young people become leaders, movers and shakers in their community. Below is a short documentary TPT did on the Be Heard program in 2018.

https://video.tpt.org/video/Be-Heard-Youth-Poetry-Slam-Series-30289/

“I really hope you stay involved past this,” says Chavah Gabrielle in the video at 2:27. And though she wasn’t speaking to me as I had competed 5 years prior to this, it was the same thing that was said to me 5 years ago and I sure am glad I listened.

I’m a writer – I write stories, poems, and essays (though the essay is more of practice to make creative academic papers and better understand academic papers). I write because what would be considered ‘back talk’ to my parents, was me just trying to communicate how I felt. I write because when I tried to write my first story and shared it with my parents, they both disliked how well I mirrored our life to the page. I write because I’m in control. I write because I’m scared, and it brings me courage. I write for first generation students. I write for Black people. I write for Africans. I write for immigrant parents. I write to make sense of the world. I write when I am wrong and figure out how to get right. I write for a better future. I write, I write, I write because as a young person I needed to empower myself when everything around me was killing me.

Be Heard Slam series at what was formerly Intermedia Arts in South Minneapolis. Photo from TruArtSpeaks

If you came to this blog post from reading my instagram post, you’ll remember I said that there is communal and personal power in sharing our stories. And though this is a small bit of how I learned to share mine, it is the first place I really began to heal.

If you’d like to see more of the powerful work TruArtSpeaks is doing, and the power in being heard and sharing stories, check out the video below!

Want to know more? Head over to www.truartspeaks.org and learn about their weekly open mic, writing workshops, and so much of the other amazing work they do. And if you’re feeling inspired, consider donating! As we all know a lot of non-profit business have been hit hard during the current COVID-19 pandemic. If you were at all moved by what you read or the videos you watched, or know someone able to donate pass along their website and follow the “donate now” link and you’ll be able to donate through their GiveMN page. They also accept checks directed to TruArtSpeaks, address is 275 4th St. E #701. All donations over $50 are tax deductible.

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