Thousands of poet-athletes from more than 40 DC public schools competed in the first slams to be held in person since 2019. Photo: Rafael Suanes.
On November 15, 16, and 17, 2022, DC SCORES hosted its first in-person poetry slams since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pepco-sponsored slams saw more than 1,300 poet-athletes from over 40 schools perform over three consecutive nights at public school auditoriums across the city.
For the past two years, DC SCORES has hosted its slams virtually as part of ongoing health measures to keep its community safe during the pandemic. This year, the organization reintroduced an in-person format, with many students performing their work in front of a live audience for the first time.
“It’s a special moment to have all of our poet-athletes together performing on stage for the first in so long,” said DC SCORES Associate Director of Creative Writing Tatiana Figueroa Ramírez, who took the lead on organizing the slams for the nonprofit.
The in-person events also provided an opportunity for DC SCORES to invite special guests and partners to witness DC SCORES poetry programming for themselves. Professional soccer players from the Washington Spirit and D.C. United, including Anna Heilferty, Marissa Sheva, Maddie Elwell, Dorian Bailey, Miguel Berry, and Donovan Pines, came out to cheer on poet-athletes alongside Donna Cooper, Region President at Pepco, the company which sponsored the slams.
“The students were exceptional and their poems about their hopes and dreams were very touching,” said Cooper. “The energy in the room was outstanding. The teachers, coordinators, and DC SCORES are obviously changing lives and making a difference!”
Middle School Slam: Speaking Truth to Power
The Middle School Slam opened the week’s showcase series on November 15. The evening event took place at Cardozo Education Campus and featured original works from middle schoolers attending 11 schools across the city.
Ida B. Wells Middle School opened the event with a group poem titled “Equality,’ which explored sexism and women’s rights. The piece was one of many to address political issues. In her performance, Kayla Nelson, a student at MacFarland Middle Schools, presented “Political Decisions,” a poem imploring people from across the political spectrum to amplify children’s voices. Her assured delivery of the powerful piece won her the coveted Shine Award for best solo performance.
Cardozo Education Campus students celebrate winning the 2022 Middle School Poetry Slam. Photo: Cody Cervenka.
Cardozo Education Campus students’ group poems about how social media and neighborhood violence impacts young people especially resonated with judges Kenneth Carrol, Mariah Barber, and Greta Adjei Silas, who awarded the school with first place for group performance at the slam.
“I’m so proud of my students. I knew they could do it. They were very nervous, but in the end they pulled it off,” said Byron Brower, Language Teacher and DC SCORES Writing Coach at Cardozo.
As the judges conferred, the audience was treated to a guest performance from Zarea Boyde, Program Coordinator of Creative Writing and former DC SCORES Youth W.O.R.D. project participant. Youth W.O.R.D. is a supplementary program for DC SCORES alumni that helps students with a flair for poetry hone their craft and learn from teaching artists about how to break into professional spoken word.
“It’s just so beautiful to see how much Zarea has grown and how Youth W.O.R.D. can help our poet-athletes find their voice. I hope these middle school students will be inspired and get involved with the project,” said Figueroa Ramírez
DC SCORES alumna and staff member Zarea Boyde performs her original work during the slam. Photo: Cody Cervenka
Westside Slam: A Multicultural Celebration
The slam series continued on November 16 with a packed event at Roosevelt High School in Petworth. The program was opened by Eduardo Perdomo, the newly-appointed Director of the DC Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs (MOLA).
Referencing his favorite line of poetry from Langston Hughes, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Perdomo talked about how important organizations like DC SCORES are to helping children in Washington, DC, reach their full potential and gain access to the same opportunities as their more privileged peers.
“Organizations like DC SCORES are helping us to fill in the gap of what can be our future and we are very happy they are one of our partners,” said Perdomo in his opening remarks.
Perdomo was an apt speaker for the slam, which featured students from 18 elementary schools across the DC’s Westside, many of whom live in neighborhoods with a high proportion of Latin American residents.
First place slam winners Seaton Elementary School perform their group poem “We Got That Sauce.” Photo: Aya Takeuchi.
A number of the poet-athletes’ performances drew on their Latinx heritage, with poems in Spanish being a prominent feature throughout the night. Celebrating language diversity was also at the heart of Seaton Elementary School’s group poem “We Got That Sauce,” which included lines in Spanish, Amharic, and Mandarin, and was part of a performance that earned the team first place in the group category.
The solo poem of the night that most impressed judges and won the 2022 Westside Shine Award was “The Year’s Seasons,” an ode to seasonal change that was written and performed by Maya Girum, a student at Truesdell Elementary.
“I’ve only been on stage once before and it just feels really good to do something for the school,” said Girum about receiving the honor. “It’s a huge accomplishment.”
Students from Capital City Public Charter School cheer on their peers in the Westside Poetry Slam. Photo: Aya Takeuchi
“Truly Inspiring”: Eastside Slam
To close out the slam series, DC SCORES hosted its Eastside Elementary School Slam at Anacostia High School on November 17. The largest of the three competitions, the event saw 20 schools from east of the river give their best performances in a bid to become poetry champions.
In front of a packed audience of parents, family members, and local community leaders, students took to the stage to deliver lines exploring friendship, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and identity.
Burville Elementary School poet-athletes perform their group poem “Music Makes Me Happy.” Photo: Rafael Suanes.
Many of the performances incorporated music and dance, including that of Burville Elementary School, the team that opened the slam with a piece about the importance of music to Black culture and identity. The team’s well-rehearsed performance wowed judges Carrol, Barber, and C. Thomas, who awarded Burville first place in the group category.
The Eastside Shine Award for best solo poem went to Katrice Allen, a student from Drew Elementary School whose charismatic stage presence and piece about self-confidence earned her the admiration of the judges and the audience.
“We heard a lot of moving and dope poetry over all three nights. It was a joy to watch all the kids have fun,” said Barber who judged all three slams. “I’m very inspired and the kids just really spoke to me, and especially to the kid in me,” shared Carrol.
A poet-athlete from Kimball Elementary School delivers her solo performance at the Eastside Poetry Slam. Photo: Rafael Suanes.
By the end of all three nights, thousands of students had stepped up to the mic to speak up about their dreams, passions, and the issues impacting their communities.
“After so many years of virtual poetry programming, it was wonderful to be in the room with our poet-athletes as they raised their voices about things they care about,” said Katrina Owens, Executive Director of DC SCORES. “Many of these students joined our program during the pandemic and to be able to see them come here and deliver such powerful performances in front of their families, neighbors, and peers was truly inspiring.”