Our Bright Moments in a Dark Time

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The end of another year is a natural time for reflection. For many of us, this time is an opportunity to ruminate about all the standout moments that make the ending year one to not forget.

No matter what, 2020 will always be remembered as a very difficult time for everyone. A year where everyone had to adapt to the arduous circumstances that affected us all and kept us physically apart when all we really needed was to be together.

Despite all the hardships felt this year, DC SCORES has never stopped serving kids in DC. With that mission in mind, this year gave us the opportunity to be creative and work with our partners and supporters like never before to keep kids feeling safe, supported, connected, and hopeful.

As we anticipate the arrival of a new year that we all hope brings us a step closer to being physically together, we want to highlight some of our favorite moments of this year that brought brightness when we needed it most.

We hope you enjoy taking a look back at our top 10 favorite moments (in no particular order)!


10. Coaches

The foundation of our programming is our outstanding coaches. We actually consider our writing and soccer coaches to be the secret sauce of DC SCORES.

As the confusion and fear in March gave way to the isolation of April, DC SCORES coaches were the glue holding their teams together. More than 100 coaches from 55 sites spent over 1,100 hours engaging their poet-athletes this spring. As a result, we were able to consistently engage with a substantial majority of our poet-athletes during the spring season, despite schools remaining physically closed. As a Leckie Education Campus coach said, “It’s good to see that the students miss soccer and writing. DC SCORES has such a positive impact on the kids that they look forward to actually engaging in virtual conversations.”

DC SCORES was founded by a teacher so the “teacher-coach” has been part of our model since the beginning, but it’s never been more important than it has this year. Our coaches are uniquely positioned to help us navigate the challenges distance learning poses on both our families and our schools, and they have been an invaluable resource helping us adapt and improve our virtual delivery to keep it effective, feasible, and relevant in a constantly changing education environment.

To wrap up the fall season, one of the SCORE Rewards for poet-athletes was to show their appreciation for their coaches and the kids didn’t disappoint in showing their coaches some love. See an example below from Brightwood Education Campus!

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9. Teaching Artists

49521603892_6a7453ef32_k.jpg Marjann Naderi, D.C. Youth Poet Laureate at Our Words Our City

Even during normal times, DC SCORES writing coaches are supported by professional teaching artists. Through our partnership with Busboys and Poets, our kids learn from and perform alongside some of the most accomplished spoken word poets in the DMV.

One of the opportunities we are able to take advantage of while we are all virtual is the inclusion of high profile guests in our sessions. It’s not every day that Women of the World poetry champions like FreeQuency can just chat with DC SCORES poet-athletes on Zoom. It’s also not common for Marjann Naderi, D.C. Youth Poet Laureate, Carlynn Newhouse, third place winner of the Women of the World Poetry Slam, and Jacob Mayberry, National Poetry Slam winner, to work side by side with our writing coaches during their sessions for an entire fall season.

The video-enabled virtual space this fall allowed us to bring on teaching artists—who normally only work with our kids in the lead up to Poetry Slam—as regular weekly coaches. Marjan Naderi was a poetry coach at Bancroft Elementary School and Capital City Public Charter School, Busboys and Poets host Simply Sherri coached the middle schoolers at KIPP Key, and National Poetry Slam Champion Jacob Mayberry contributed to the Jefferson Middle School Academy coaching staff.

8. D.C. United

A constant for DC SCORES in a time that seems like it’s constantly changing is the crucial support we get from D.C. United. Year after year, United show up for poet-athletes in new and exciting ways and 2020 was no different.

To start off, sending thousands of equipment kits to our participants was only possible with the help of United staff and the space availability of Audi Field. And while Audi Field couldn’t host us in-person for games this season, they made sure poet-athletes from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and Jefferson Middle School Academy were present in the stands through their fan cut-out program.

Even in the virtual world, United players made sure to still be present and involved in programming. In the summer, D.C. United players Bill Hamid and Chris Odoi-Astem and eSports athlete, Mohamed “KingCJ0” Alioune Diop made special appearances for DC SCORES camp participants. Later in the fall, Edison Flores surprised the poet-athletes of Bancroft Elementary School with a Q&A session completely in Spanish to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Lastly, former head coach Ben Olsen and homegrown players Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, and Griffin Yow, kicked off the Celebrity Guest Speaker Series again in the fall.

Although we were not able to celebrate the holidays together like usual, DC SCORES and D.C. United still teamed up together to make a difference by donating over 200 soccer balls to Toys for Tots!

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7. Racial Equity

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While this has been an incredibly trying time for all, DC SCORES’ commitment to providing safe spaces and opportunities for our poet-athletes to raise their voices and act to drive positive change has only gotten stronger. In fact, for our entire 26-year existence, DC kids have leveraged DC SCORES’ poetry and service-learning program components to publicly speak up about and advocate for racial justice and police reform.

In the summer, camp writing activities had a special emphasis on racial equity, encouraging kids to share their thoughts, fears, feelings, and hopes in light of the tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and far too many other Black people in our country.

As we navigate the continually changing landscape wrought by the pandemic and racial injustices, the lessons we’ve learned during this most unique spring have only strengthened our resolve to ensure that the voice of every child in DC is heard and that they all have a safe, supportive team to call their own.

Our staff has also been active in advocating for racial equity, in particular, DC SCORES Director of Creative Arts and Education Charity Blackwell. Blackwell has spoken publicly about the importance of racial equity, including on special podcast episodes with our official community partners, D.C. United and the Washington Spirit.

Members of the DC SCORES staff, Board of Directors and Advisory Council have also formed a racial equity task force to establish strategic goals and policies with an explicit racial equity lens. DC SCORES recognizes the importance of the opinions of our coaches, families and participants and with that in mind, we’ve established community councils for each group. Every council will include a diverse group of members that represent all races, genders, and DC wards where DC SCORES is present.

6. Summer SCORES

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Since in-person camps were not permitted under DC’s reopening guidelines this year, summer SCORES went virtual!

SCORES at Home Summer Camps served more than 550 kids and ran from June 22nd to July 24th. This special edition of camp was open to all kids in rising grades 1-9 and included a combination of guided activities and live sessions, and like always, was completely FREE. The summer camps were created with SCORES participants in-mind (emphasizing our values of teamwork, leadership, and commitment), but were appropriate for, and open to, all kids, even those outside of DC.

The summer also hosted an additional camp tailored for our participants that wanted to hone their poetry skills. The first-ever Our Words Our City camp included daily sessions catered to improving the campers writing and performance abilities. Campers also had the incredible opportunity to participate in workshops led by amazing spoken word artists like World Poetry Slam Champion, Porsha O and award-winning poet and actor, Carvens Lissaint, who starred as George Washington in the Tony Award-winning musical HAMILTON. Additionally, every writing camp participant was supplied with an iPad thanks to a generous DC SCORES supporter!

5. Poet-Athlete Kits

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One of our goals when planning the virtual season was to eliminate as many participation barriers as possible. Some of those barriers simply come down to not having the equipment and supplies necessary to participate.

In preparation for our summer camp and fall season, DC SCORES staff and volunteers packed up and mailed over 2,000 poet-athlete kits. Each kit had everything participants would need to fully participate in programming: DC SCORES t-shirt and mask, soccer ball, disc cones, hand pump, water bottle, pencils, journal and more!

Packing all those kits in the middle of the summer at Audi Field wouldn’t have been possible without the help of incredible volunteers that showed up to do their part in bringing DC SCORES to the homes of our poet-athletes. All of our volunteers contributed in such a meaningful way and two volunteers in particular, Laurie Gonzalez and Kemba Ford – both Advisory Council members – really shined for their commitment and coming out in full force.

Gonzalez, who works with one of our longtime partners – Deloitte, and is a member of the D.C. United supporters group – Screaming Eagles, stopped by our packing assembly line on multiple occasions to help in any way she could to get the kits out to kids ASAP. Ford made a huge difference by cutting down our packing and shipping time tremendously by bringing some of her sorority sisters from Delta Sigma Theta – Federal City Alumnae Chapter.

Throughout the summer and fall, the DC SCORES team worked with coaches to plan numerous equipment kit drop-offs at schools so even if kits got lost in the mail, poet-athletes could still get everything necessary to participate.

Along with mailing kits, the DC SCORES staff also mailed out SCORES Rewards – a collection of rewards kids can collect by accomplishing certain tasks during the season like perfect attendance, 200 touches on a ball, and so on. Kids not only got the opportunity to receive fresh DC SCORES gear mailed to their house, but they also contributed to team goals for special prizes like celebrity special guests drop-ins during their practice!

4. Washington Spirit

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We finally made it official with the Washington Spirit! In the spring, National Women’s Soccer League club the Washington Spirit, and DC SCORES, announced a multi-year deal making us an official community partner of the team.

This special partnership is modeled after our affiliation with D.C. United, with the goals of growing the number of girls in the region who play soccer, giving female DC SCORES soccer players more opportunities to see and work with professional female role models, and providing Spirit players more opportunities for local, team-related community service, and increase awareness and visibility of the Spirit and its impact in the DC community.

The Spirit have really shown up for our poet-athletes in a variety of ways this year. From volunteering to pack hundreds of equipment kits in the summer at Audi Field to popping in as special guests during virtual programming.

There were also so many unique opportunities the Spirit found to support us financially this year. During their participation in the NWSL Fall Series tournament, they picked DC SCORES as their beneficiary for their Verizon Community Shield success. They also teamed up with Events DC and DC SCORES to host a special drive-in Spirit game watch party, with ticket sales benefitting our program.

Everyone part of the Washington Spirit organization have been great advocates for DC SCORES, but this year we have to give a special shout out to players Paige Nielsen and Ashley Hatch, who constantly look for ways to be involved with our poet-athletes and have hosted cleat donations and even donated goal bonuses to our mission.

3. Our Words Our City

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February 2020 seems so long ago but we all remember it fondly because of Our Words Our City. Studio Theatre once again opened its doors for the sixth edition of this black box theater poetry showcase and it had a special aura to it as we continued celebrating our 25th anniversary.

This year’s Our Words Our City celebrated the past, present, and future of DC SCORES with 16 poet-athletes and alumni taking the stage, alongside professional spoken word artists, including featured poet of the event and longtime supporter, Clint Smith.

Later in April, which is National Poetry Month, we hosted our first-ever live virtual event called Our Words Our City LIVE, which celebrated the Amazon Prime Video debut of the showcase. In addition to the recorded showcase, the event featured live commentary from teaching artists that performed in the event, including Marjan Naderi and Jacob Mayberry, and special poetry performances from Washington Spirit and D.C. United players.

Both the live and virtual Our Words Our City events are best described by host committee member Hiram Larew, “A memory-making evening. Thanks to all the magicians who made it shine.”

2. Celebrity Guest Speaker Series

Even with all the difficulties that a virtual world presents, there are still pockets of unique opportunities that DC SCORES has been able to tap into to make programming special for our poet-athletes. A brand new series we piloted in the summer and continued in the fall was our Celebrity Guest Speaker Series.

We’ve had amazing celebrity guests spend their afternoons virtually with our poet-athletes discussing their personal experiences and offering invaluable advice to everyone watching. Our participants also had the unique opportunity to ask them questions and even perform some of their original poetry they’ve been working on during the summer and fall.

This year’s celebrity guest speakers included:

  • Charlie Davies – Former U.S. Men’s National Team player
  • Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa – 2018 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion
  • Staci Wilson – Former U.S. Women’s National Team player and Olympic Gold Winner
  • Mohamed “KingCJ0” Alioune Diop – D.C. United professional eSports athlete
  • Ben Olsen – Former D.C. United Head Coach
  • Moses Nyeman – D.C. United Homegrown player
  • Kevin Paredes – D.C. United Homegrown player
  • Griffin Yow – D.C. United Homegrown player
  • Herculez Gomez – ESPN commentator and former U.S. Men’s National Team player
  • Sebastian Salazar – ESPN Host-Anchor-Reporter and DC SCORES coach
  • Crystal Dunn – U.S. Women’s National Team and Portland Thorns FC player
  • Jason Reynolds – Best-selling author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Additionally, this fall DC SCORES hosted a special panel with three D.C. Youth Poet Laureates, Marjan Naderi, MalPractice (Malachi Byrd) and Kenneth Carroll, to discuss what it is like being a young professional poet.

1. SCORES at Home

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In early March when we all went remote and the spring season needed to go virtual, the program team at DC SCORES created SCORES at Home, a series of at-home soccer and writing activities for kids.

The SCORES at-home activities were created with SCORES participants in-mind but are appropriate for all students in grades 3-8, with separate Junior SCORES activities for grades K-2.

All of the activities include a video that walks participants through soccer drills or writing prompts, as well as an accompanying worksheet (available in English and in Spanish) that kids can download and fill out on their own.

SCORES at Home is really the foundation of our virtual programming. The main programmatic North Star throughout the pandemic has been to keep kids connected and hopeful no matter where they are. We know we can’t make our virtual program look like usual, but there’s a lot we can do to make it feel like DC SCORES for our poet-athletes.

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