On March 25th, Environmental Charter High School was all a buzz. Teachers and parents gathered to hear a poetry slam and to peruse energy exhibits. Hear My Voice Poetry Slam was organized by the Green Ambassadors class, as well as other ECHS students in conjunction with Energy Upgrade California.
As the Poetry Slam begins, the seats of the Amphitheater begin to fill. The student performers are lined up and a quiet murmur washes over the audience as the first performer steps on stage. His shoulders braced, he takes a deep breath and looks up into the crowd.
You’re Hurting Me.
The scars created on my beaten body contain the lies you forced down my windpipe.
Crushed against my skull and beat into my heart.
With every breath I take the deeper I fall into YOU.
Within you lives my identity.
You. Are. Hurting. Me.”
(Letters to Inadequacy, By Tahj P. Lakey)
Students step on stage, one after another, each telling a story that drips with vulnerability and truth. Words are choked by tears and passion and the crowd sits in complete silence, hanging on every word spoken by the youth poets. Each piece ends in thunderous applause, full of support and admiration for the courage and boldness expressed through verse.
“As a black woman, I really wanted to write a about the cross section of feminism and race. I was shaking because I was nervous. After I was done reading, everyone told me it was FIRE. I was shaking and felt goosebumps. That’s how I knew it was a good poem”.
-10th grader, Ogechi Hubert,1st Place Poetry Slam Winner
Ogechi remembers walking across the stage, listening to amplified sound of her boots, and trying to settle her nerves, knowing her entire family and neighbors were sitting in the audience. She remembers the snaps, applause and murmurs of agreement in the crowd and looking at the judges faces, but the person she remembers most of all was her mother.
“While I was on stage and doing my piece, I looked at my mom and her hand was raised in a fist. She gave me a look like, ‘I see you.’ At school the next day, people I didn’t even know were asking me ‘Do you know that part in your poem when you talked about such and such…can you explain it to me?'”
To prepare for the evening, teachers walked students through the idea of “spoken word” while also teaching about the classical and technical aspects of poetry and rhyme. Through discussion, the class spoke frankly about the meaning of social injustice as it relates to culture and identity, race, education, social norms and expectations and the environment. The students were then given the freedom to draw inspiration from whichever topic they resonated with most and begin their writing.
“I was really impressed with the students. They shared pieces of themselves that no one had ever heard before. At ECS, we build a culture of tolerance and acceptance and try to create a space where students and teachers can share very real, vulnerable truths with each other. It’s amazing what youth will say if you give them a chance to say what they want and not censor them.”
-English teacher, Jessica Horowitz