Growing up I never had a love much less an appreciation for poetry. In high school and college there was nothing that drew me to admire, care for, or even really even respect the words from the typical canon of poets. It wasn't until a few years into my teaching career when I went to a Louder Than A Bomb poetry event and heard students from all across our city and the Chicago land region putting their words out there for everyone to hear, that I realized the true power that spoken word possessed.
For the many of us fortunate enough to already know about Louder Than A Bomb or more commonly LTAB, we know that it is one of the best things that Chicago has going for it.
You see, LTAB is put on by Young Chicago Authors which brings over 1,000 kids from nearly every neighborhood of our city, the suburbs, Indiana, and the greater Chicago land area together. As we know Chicago is one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the United States. LTAB is one of the few events that actually works to desegregate our students and our city. This "competition" of poetry gives students from every possible neighborhood, suburb, or region a chance for kids to listen, share, and build a community with each other through the simple ancient act of sharing their stories.
I could go on and explain the profound impact this event has had on me and my co-coach Missy Hughes for the past six years, but just read what students from TEAM Englewood High School feel about the importance of LTAB, two years after they last took part in the event. All of the quotes are from graduated former students of ours who are nearly all in their second year of college. (By clicking on the students names below you will see their spoken word performances from their senior year in high school)
From left to right: Melana Bass, Myara Robinson, Jeremey Johnson and Keith Warfield performing in the 2012 National Grudge Match Poetry Slam at Young Chicago Authors
Jonathan Nesbitt (Western Illinois University)- "What it means to me to be a part of TEAM Englewood spoken word is like being a part of a big family. We bumped heads, we argued, we loved and we always came together at the end of the day. Spoken word has changed my life around. You get to hear what people/ friends are going through and it makes me feel so blessed because you never know what people have been through until they spit their piece. Spoken word brought out a very very important skill which is writing and rewriting and editing. And then the adrenaline rush you get when you step out on stage and tell to your story to the world, the feeling is just amazing. I wish I could just go back to high school for one day to compete in LTAB!!! "
Jeremey Johnson (Columbia College-Chicago)- "Poetry gave me a positive outlet for some of my anger. It taught me that I not only had a voice, but that it was one worth listening to. I didn't need to run from my problems because I could write them down. I could master them. Spoken word gave me courage to face the world and myself. I never would've gotten that if it weren't for the Team Englewood spoken word team."
Myara Robinson (St. Xavier University) - "Being on the poetry team has helped me to find my voice. I've made amazing friends and professional connections through spoken word performances. I have a better appreciation for literary devices because of it. By being engulfed in the world of poetry my ear has become a magnet to metaphors and deeper meanings. If my teachers had never seen something in me and my writing I would still be oblivious to the artistic and creative part of life. Also, being a member of the poetry team and being apart of the LTAB Festival was one of the reasons high school was so fun for me, very memorable. My writing has changed, gotten better thanks to spoken word. It's kinda like I've been freed or saved in a way. Writing liberates me and gives me yet another artful way to express myself. It's something that will forever be apart of me."
Montrel Marks (Harold Washington College) "Being on the Team Englewood spoken word team helped me realize what I can be and push me past my limits. I was lazy with school and I always used to pick the easy way out of things. The coaches pushed me to pull my grades up. I built a love for poetry. My team(Englewood) showed me how to truly love someone that didn't come from the same parents. They showed me how to understand and relate to people. Now today my bonds and connection that I made are strong. I love poetry so much that I'm becoming a teacher to give back, what was given to me."
Keith Warfield (Proud father-returning to college soon)- "Being apart of "NO DOUBT BABY!" (A.K.A. TEAM Englewood) was one of the best things that ever happened to me. We were able to build relationships aside from just being students and teachers and I honestly feel like that was the most important part. To all of my former teammates, I appreciate and respect you guys even more after watching you open your hearts up to complete strangers and showing them how valuable our voices are. To the coaches I just really want to thank you guys for doing more than just coaching and teaching because you actually became our best friends and I've NEVER been legitimate friends with any of my teachers. I love you all and every single one of you has played a very important and inspirational role in my life contributing to the man I am today!"
Melana Bass (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- "Being on this team was everything to me. I learned so many social skills that I didn't have. I learned how to articulate everything through a creative lens. I was able to develop spoken word into a craft that helped me attain an online reputation, job opportunities, and connections to other great gigs. I created lifetime bonds with my coaches and teammates and even others that I met through the slam. Being on the team also taught me a great deal of creative discipline and how to hustle artistically and how to use resources to create shows or other artistic endeavors. This was at first a team I ran from and now this gift of spoken is paying for my college education!! I couldn't be more grateful."
The amazing thing is I guarantee of all the kids who have taken part and "competed" in LTAB there are thousands of stories just like these.
So if you have never seen this event before do yourself a favor and go watch and listen. The youth of Chicago are speaking and they have spent days, weeks, and months preparing their messages to be heard.