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Putting Hands Upon: Brave New People

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Putting Hands Upon: Brave New People

by mbilal

This year’s Brave New Voices, Youth Speaks’ (youthspeaks.org) seminal teenage poetry event, was absolutely amazing. Over 450 poets from all over the world gathered in Washington, DC to spit the freshest groupings of syllables since Shakespeare had pimples. I had the distinct pleasure of judging one of the two semi-finals at the Smithsonian. The poetry was inspired and the competition was fierce. As it should be, I guess. After all, these were the top young poets in the country. But something was askew: these teenagers were confident, intelligent, and inquisitive; they were passionate about politics, the environment, and education, and throughout the event, they kept dissing the “slam-based” mechanisms that got them on the national team in the first place. They were black, brown, up and down and the answer to everything that’s supposedly wrong with today’s youth. The most poignant moment came midway through a poem when one gifted young poet from New Orleans forgot his lines. He stood in front of a room full of eyes. He repeated his last line and repeated it again, hoping the rhythm of the former would stimulate the latter. Silence. He looked up into space, waiting to catch it. Silence. He balled up his hands and shook his head- stumped. Then the most miraculous thing happened, the other poets in the audience, many of his competitors, started to encourage him-- “You got it…”, “Take your time…”, “It’s all good…” As he worked out the edges of his lost poem, the energy built and the audience support increased. He caught a glimmer of lost tome and said a few lines. “Yeah, you got it…” Then he lost it and froze. Young people in the audience raised two hands into the air, and someone cried out, “Put hands on him.” It was as if everyone in the crowd was holding him, supporting him. One young audience member jumped up and shouted- “It’s okay. It’s your poem. Don’t worry about the words, speak from the heart.” And sure enough, like a movie, he started to speak—one cautious line, two, three. He grabbed the air with those once nervous hands and illustrated the newly found words, a poem now with a poet. He finished to a standing ovation and ran off stage to the arms of his teammates. The audience was overwhelmed, people hugged, laughed, and cried. He had ended any chance his team had of winning, and yet, he had become the catalyst by which all of us participated in something so much greater than competition. How often does that happen?

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An event at the Brave New Voice Conference that change my life.
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