Thursday, March 28, 2013

Students Commemorate Civil Rights Movement in Annual Poetry Slam

Students from Tarrant performing at WORD UP! 2012

Young poets from high schools all over Jefferson County will add their voices to the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. They will perform at the sixth annual WORD UP! student poetry slam on Sunday, April 7, at 3:00 p.m. in the Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library. Their poems will be inspired by photographs that document events that took place in Alabama a half century ago—many years before these students were born.

Justin Wright who attends the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate program will be representing Shades Valley High School at WORD UP!. He was the third place winner at last year’s WORD UP! In a recent article in Weld, he states, “For me, it (the photograph) created a feeling of more than just the event but of loss and hurt and frustration…I believe it is a good way to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement. We as teenagers are so far distanced from these events that we sometimes forget them, and this competition helps us to connect with it on a different and more personal level.”

The poets who will be competing at WORD UP! are the first and second place winners of contests held at their schools. This year, sixteen high schools will be participating at the slam. The contestants are scored by a panel of three judges both on the content and performance of their three-minute poems.

BPL is partnering with the non-profit creative writing organization Real Life Poets (RLP) to nurture the talents of these budding poets in a project we are calling “Flow Tactics.” Every first Saturday, RLP leads a workshop for teens from middle-school to high-school age. John Paul Taylor, director of RLP, observed that students get the opportunity to interact with people from other schools who they may not have had a chance to meet otherwise. And they discover they’re not the only ones who are interested in poetry.

Patrick Johnson, award-winner filmmaker and board member of RLP, observes that he has seen these young people really grow through their experience in the poetry workshops. He gives the example of one student who was extremely shy and reluctant to read her poetry out loud at first. But she gradually gained the confidence to voluntarily perform her work.

And these young poets get the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned in the workshops at a monthly open mic event, Flow Tactics Teen Open Mic, held every third Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the YMCA Youth Center near Phillips Academy. The open mic is limited to high school age students. Though RLP facilitates these events, they are organized by the teens.

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