In Washington D.C. poetry has become a vehicle to empower today’s youth with
writing skills, confidence, and socio-political responsibility. Washington D.C. is home to an organization known as Split This Rock. Since 2008, the organization has reached out into their community through the use of poetry; exercising the art form as an expression of social activism and celebration for diversity.
Split This Rock’s Assistant Youth Coordinator Pages Matam has worked with the organization for four years. Matam facilitates and teaches creative writing and poetry workshops, as well as coaching the DC Youth Slam Team, which placed first in the nation at the 2014 Brave New Voices competition. In speaking with Matam, he discussed the vocational importance to the existence of youth programs,
“Programs like Split This Rock are necessary and important to communities and youth not only because of the platforms, stages, and access we offer, but because we are more than just a poetry program. Our year long program with the youth is about more than just building better artists, but about helping young people realize, actualize, and exceed their potential and become even better human beings. We help provide a light for those that will change the world, in creating their own paths and eventually they will continue that circle and provide the same light for others as well. That is what it truly means to be a community, to continue the cycle of empathy and work with each other.”
The youth program at Split This Rock includes ten talented teaching artists and slam coaches, consisting of returning student-volunteers, educators, and renowned poets. We asked Matam how these facilitators are utilizing poetry to empower voice within the youth,
“Poetry is used as a platform for social activism within the youth community because it empowers the youth, validates their stories, and offers them a stage to express their opinions, voices, and values without being vilified, excluded, or belittled. It shows them that they are being heard, that they mean something, that they can be the change they would like to see on many social justice issues they face everyday…”
There are several events and opportunities the program organizes in support of the youth and their poetic craft such as the high school slam festival Louder Than A Bomb, teen open mics, school presentations, classes, and contests. The DC Youth Slam Team in particular, has established a strong line of young poets representing their state at Brave New Voices, and has consistently placed amongst the top teams in the nation. Matam’s experience coaching the team left him emotional and excited about this years accomplishments,
“Preparing and coaching the DC Youth Slam team for BNV has taught me a lot about patience, and believing in these kids and the power of their words beyond just the physical realm, but the spiritual as well. Our words transcend to so many places across an emotional spectrum. I haven’t laughed and cried this hard at a poetry festival since the last BNV I attended. They help me realize how necessary this work is and that I’m doing something right in this world.”
To read more about Split This Rock and their upcoming events check out their website: http://www.splitthisrock.org
DC Youth Slam performing at the 2013 BNV.