Members of The Sojourner Truth School DC SCORES team are coming together and raising their voices for justice in their community.
“She inspires me,” says 6th-grader Ebuka about the abolitionist and civil rights activist Sojourner Truth. “She helped [enslaved people] get free, and that inspires me because, basically, it shows you can do whatever you want, if you try hard.”
Sojourner Truth, a formerly enslaved woman who became one of the United States’ most prominent anti-slavery and civil rights advocates, is an especially important figure to Ebuka. He attends The Sojourner Truth Public Charter School (Truth PCS), a Montessori school in Northeast DC where learning approaches and school values are directly inspired by her life and legacy.
Ebuka is also a member of the Truth PCS DC SCORES team, where he plays soccer, writes poetry, and works on community service projects alongside more than 30 other poet-athletes on his team. Through its partnership with DC SCORES, the school has found another opportunity for students to embody its Sojourner Truth-inspired mission.
“We’re really intentional about carrying on Truth’s legacy at school and with DC SCORES, as well,” says Jenna Pel, a DC SCORES coach and middle school humanities teacher at Truth PCS. “DC SCORES is about shining a light on communities, bridging gaps in access, and really reaching out and engaging communities.”
Truth PCS took home second place at last year’s DC SCORES Middle School poetry slam for a series of poems that highlighted the challenges faced by young people in DC and how friendship helped them overcome adversity.
Learning From History
“We learn a lot about Sojourner Truth,” says 8th-grade poet-athlete Jordyn, who has studied books and films about the historical figure. “I’ve learned that she suffered a lot during slavery, but she also paved the way for Black people to be free,” she adds. “She was an amazing person who inspired so many people to be brave.”
Meaningfully teaching the histories of figures like Sojourner Truth is a priority at Truth PCS, says Sonija Parson, who is also a DC SCORES coach and middle school humanities teacher at the school.
“Black History Month is coming up in February, but we make sure that the children understand that it’s not just during February that we learn about Black pioneers,” Parson explains. “There’s a lot of history that keeps out Black voices, especially Black women’s voices, so the fact that we intentionally named our school after [Sojourner Truth] makes sure activists of color are part of our daily conversations.”
Sojourner Truth is also an excellent example of the school’s wider ethos, says Pel. “A key tenant of Montessori is the idea of liberation and freedom — we want the students to express themselves and be their authentic selves,” she explains.
By exploring how role models like Sojourner Truth harnessed their freedom and life experiences for good, Pel and Parson hope their students will be encouraged to make their own impact on the world. It’s an approach that is working, at least according to 6th-grade poet-athlete Arayah, who performed the solo poem for Truth PCS at DC SCORES’ Middle School Slam last year.
“[Sojourner Truth] tells me that I can do whatever I put my mind to,” says Arayah. “She pushes my mindset so that I can do anything.”
Sonija Parson (left) and Jenna Pel (right) are some of DC SCORES’ newest coaches, joining the program in September 2023.
Raising Their Voices
Familiar with Sojourner Truth’s gift for oratory, the poet-athletes at Truth PCS have been using their own voices to advocate for the issues they care about in their communities through DC SCORES.
At last year’s Middle School Poetry Slam, the Truth PCS team claimed second place for a series of powerful performances, including a piece addressing poet-athletes’ experiences with racism, sexism, xenophobia, and body discrimination. The poem ended with a rallying cry for unity that drew upon the camaraderie the poet-athletes had fostered through DC SCORES: “We are one team/And all together we will all win!”
Having a space to explore these ideas is critical, says 6th-grader Everett. “It’s important for people to hear what we have to say because, as kids, we don’t get listened to a lot. [DC SCORES] is a way that we can be heard,” he explains.
The team’s captain, 6th-grader Iván, agrees. “It’s important to listen to kids because we might see things in a different viewpoint than parents, maybe see the more optimistic side of things,” he stresses. “Parents might be a little more realistic, a little bit more negative, so it’s good to listen to us.”
The DC SCORES slams also offer opportunities for youth to learn from one another, says Parson, and to appreciate the challenges faced by their peers in other parts of the city.
“As diverse as our student body is, there were some stories [at slam] that our students have never experienced before,” says Parson. “They’re hearing stuff that’s going to make them go, ‘What? My opponent on the other side of a soccer ball, or the stage, they’re going through that on a daily basis?’ It brings the kids together.”
Arayah, a 6th-grader on the Truth PCS team, performs her solo poem at last year’s slam.
Having a space where kids can come together, no matter their background, is one of Jordyn’s favorite things about DC SCORES, too. “I like how fair and square soccer is,” she says. “[DC SCORES] is really set on making sure it’s a good environment to be in.”
The organization ensures that the more than 3,000 kids in its program receive the resources they need to thrive in its programs every school day, from providing soccer uniforms and writing equipment to safely bussing every team to and from weekly games and events.
This goes a long way to lifting poet-athletes’ self-esteem. Pel says, “That all these things are provided, it shows the students that they are valuable.”
Coaches and poet-athletes say the Truth PCS DC SCORES team has been building school community on and off the field.
Parson knows firsthand what this focus on equity can accomplish. Born and raised in DC, she played elite travel soccer throughout her school days before becoming a college athlete in the sport. “I was brought up by a single Black mom in Southeast DC. I cannot tell you how hard my mother worked to make sure that I could be on all of those teams,” she shares.
She recalls how frustrating it was for kids to live close to soccer fields that they couldn’t use because they couldn’t afford to play on them. “Something I love about DC SCORES is that they tell kids, ‘Hey, you’re welcome on this soccer field,’” she says. “They make sure that we have everything we need. There’s very few programs that do that and look out for us Washingtonians.”
DC SCORES has created a cohort of engaged poet-athletes at Truth PCS who are deeply committed to one another, their school, and their community, say the coaches.
“Our team really has this sense of sharing one common goal,” says Pel. “We enter the beautiful game of soccer with different life experiences, but we’re all on the pitch for the same goal, or we’re all up on the stage in front of hundreds of people speaking passionately from the heart, together. That’s really powerful.”
“DC SCORES brought me a lot of friends”: Truth PCS poet-athletes are looking forward to creating more memories as a close-knit team.
This, too, ties back to Sojourner Truth’s legacy as an individual who used her voice to bring others into a collective movement for abolitionism and civil rights. Parson hopes that, both inside and outside of the classroom, Truth PCS poet-athletes can also make a positive impact by working together.
“They’re talking about Sojourner Truth and realizing that their voices could make bigger changes, like a ripple. That they could make a drop of an idea and pass it onto the next child, and then the next child, and the next child after that,” she explains.
And those transformational bonds have already formed on the Truth PCS DC SCORES team. “I’m really happy I joined DC SCORES, because it actually did bring me a lot of friends,” says 6th-grader Julian. “It’s how I met some of my best friends, my favorite kids in the whole entire school. And, yeah, DC SCORES brought me together with them.”
Note: In this story, the phrase “enslaved people” has been replaced in some quotes where the term “slaves” was originally used. The preferred term is indicated by the use of square brackets. DC SCORES uses the term “enslaved people” when referring to individuals forced to perform labor or services against their will under the brutal institution of slavery in the United States. This preferred term centers the humanity of these individuals and recognizes that they were forcibly placed into the condition of slavery by other people. Learn more about this language preference and why it matters.