Last Tuesday, the young poets of The Mix‘s “We Rock The Mic” literary program took the stage at Tellus360 to share their words, stories, rhymes, and attitude. The event was a spoken word slam, open to the public and judged by local writers. Eight contestants read two poems each and were scored on their creativity, and delivery. Although the teens from The Mix (an after-school youth mentoring program held at Arbor Place on North street in Lancaster City) made up a majority of the contestants, community members young and old participated as well.
The theme of the night was bravery. Briana’s poems were centered on overcoming abuse and honoring African heritage, respectively. “I am an African princess,” the Mix student exclaimed in her second poem. Other teen poets from all over the area read about combating fear, finding and following one’s dreams, and the complications of love. In what was the most specific and socially poignant poem of the night, Kiara spoke about society’s fear and unfair derision of the “F” word–Feminism. “Why is it that a woman is paid half as much as a man?” she asked a captivated crowd as her poem opened.
In order to raise money to go to Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry competition in Atlanta Georgia, the Mix has organized these three Spoken Word competitions at Tellus 360, the first of which was Tuesday, February 10th. Admission was a five dollar donation towards the cost of sending their team of poets; the Mix is working to raise 5,000 dollars. The competitions include many poets from the Mix as they practice for the big show in Atlanta, but the public is encouraged to sign up and compete as well.
The Mix is a youth-mentoring program based in the Southeast of Lancaster City. Over eighty local students attend the Mix, and with a constantly growing roster, the mentors and staff there are always working to incorporate new programming and opportunities for students to find agency and identity in their local community. One of these programs is We Rock The Mic, lead by program associate, Ty Gant. Ty works to help students find their voices, develop confidence, and deliver their message.
The poets at the mix have some experience performing for audiences already. They have monthly open mics at Arbor Place, and some even perform in school at talent shows.
A few days before the reading on Tuesday, I met with Ty and a handful of the young poets to talk to them about the Tellus 360 events, the festival in Atlanta, and their inspiration for writing and performing.
What is the purpose for these events at Tellus 360?
Kiara: “It’s a fundraiser to raise money…so we can go to Brave New Voices. That’s the biggest national youth poetry event and we’re going to try to take five people from Lancaster, to form a Lancaster team. We’re trying to get our name out there, trying to represent Lancaster in a good way.”
Is it just poets from The Mix who’ll be going?
Kiara: “Mainly, but we’re trying to get kids from other schools around here, like La Academia, to come to the Mix and join us.”
Have you been to Brave New Voices? What happens there?
Kiara: “There’s performances….slams–poets competing against each other– and there’s judges that rate your poem…on things like being clear, how long your poems is, how you emphasize the poem, how you get your message across. It’s a big competition, and it’s all teams.”
Who won last year? Where was it?
Kiara: “In Philly. Washington D.C. won. South Africa (Cape Town, specifically) got second.”
How else are you working to raise money to go?
Kiara: “We did community service last year to raise money, so we will do that again too.”
Do you guys work on poetry here at the Mix?
Jacqueline: “Yeah we write a lot at home but we practice saying them here.”
Kiara: “Ty says if you write poetry not to just write it when you’re here, it’s right when you have your feeling and you want to get those emotions down…”
Tyshaya: “We come to practice and Mr. Ty and he helps us read fluently and emphasize our words. He’s really our coach.”
Kiara: “He puts that out every day that he’s not gonna sit there and write the poem for us–we need to write it on our own and get our message across. He’s there to help us say it the best way we can.”
Did you start writing poetry here, or did you write poetry before you came here?
Kiara: “We write [outside of the Mix], but more here. We have poetry lessons in school, but that’s just like a poem to get a grade–but here it’s like if we write we can actually have an audience to hear what we say. Like, if we’re angry at someone one day we can write it in a poem and then when the slam comes you can just get those emotions out and not have to really worry about it any more…We made a CD last year and other kids from the Mix made the beats. We record our poems and they make the music for the background.”
What do you write about? What subjects?
Kiara: “Dreams. Being yourself… I have a Lancaster city poem.”
Tyshaya: “Depression. Stopping violence and bullying.”
Jacqueline: “We just free write.”
Does Ty give you subjects or ideas of what to write about?
Kiara: “Ty doesn’t tell us what to write about but he helps us figure it out. Like, I was writing about how guys always get the credit for stuff and seem more in the spotlight, and he was like, ‘You’re talking about Feminism.’ and I was like, ‘what is that?’ and he said its when men and women fight for equal rights. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to write a poem about that.’
So he just directed you in that way.
Jacqueline: “He directs, he coaches, he helps us.”
This Spring, there are two more opportunities to support the teen poets from The Mix at Arbor Place as they compete to raise money to travel to Atlanta to compete in the Brave New Voices 2015 Youth Poetry Slam. Tellus 360 will be hosting the group again on Tuesday, April 7th, and Friday, June 5th. Don’t miss it. (Also, get writing, because anyone can sign up!)