“It’s Exhilarating”: Fourth-Grader Veronica Telzrow On Being Part of a 3,000-Strong Poet-Athlete Community Bringing Change to D.C.

1-446f35.png Veronica is a member of DC SCORES’ Youth WORD Project for talented youth poets and performed her original poetry at Our Words Our City in 2023.

“It’s kind of stupid,” says Veronica Telzrow about the idea that sports aren’t for girls. The fourth grader is talking about her experience as a member of the DC SCORES team at School Without Walls (SWW) at Francis Stevens, where she plays soccer, writes poetry, and completes service-learning projects as a DC SCORES poet-athlete.

The SWW team has had trouble recruiting girls for the squad this year, but Veronica says that’s not because they don’t want to play sports. “They’re just super busy with so many activities,” she says. “Girls do a lot.”

Veronica herself proves the point. In addition to being a member of the DC SCORES team, she bakes, hikes, and loves to read. She is also one of the youngest poet-athletes in the Youth WORD Project, DC SCORES’ enhanced poetry program for kids who are passionate about writing and performing.

Along with the rest of her Youth WORD peers, Veronica is currently preparing a new poem that she will perform at Our Words Our City. The annual event is DC SCORES’ premier youth poetry showcase, where poet-athletes perform alongside professional poets in front of an audience of hundreds.

This year, Our Words Our City takes place on May 7 at Arena Stage, and Veronica can’t wait for showtime. “It’s so good because everybody gets to hear what you wrote,” she says. “Being on that stage is exhilarating.”

Discovering Poetry

Veronica joined the SWW DC SCORES team as a third grader. She was primarily interested in soccer, and initially found the idea of performance poetry intimidating. “I thought I had stage fright, so I really didn’t want to do it,” she admits.

Throughout her first DC SCORES season, she worked closely with her SWW teammates to produce three poems, which they performed at the 2022 DC SCORES Westside Slam. Every fall, across three consecutive nights, more than 3,000 poet-athletes from across D.C. come together at slam to share their original spoken word performances.

2-c31b6e.png Veronica first joined DC SCORES because she wanted to play soccer, but soon discovered another passion: poetry.

The power of the DC SCORES community banished any fear Veronica felt during that first performance. She says, “I just felt really great because everyone was cheering, and then when I sat down, everybody else’s [performances] were really good, too.”

Overcoming a fear of the spotlight isn’t the only thing poet-athletes achieve together. In addition to playing soccer and writing poetry, all of the more than 3,000 children who participate in DC SCORES carry out community service projects in their neighborhoods every spring.

The community aspect of the DC SCORES program resonates deeply with Veronica. One of her favorite things about living in D.C. is the close-knit bonds she forms with her classmates, who come from all over the city, and her neighbors in Petworth, where she has lived all her life. “They always help you when you need them,” she says.

“A Kid Like Me Could Change Everything”

Nonetheless, there are some aspects of life in D.C. that Veronica would like to change. She is dismayed by the amount of trash she encounters in the street and is frightened by the number of shootings her neighborhood has experienced in recent years.

A lot of the poetry Veronica writes focuses on issues like these. She hopes the adults who hear her words will take action. She says, “I try to focus on a subject and try to get them to think about it more.”

At last year’s Our Words Our City, Veronica performed a narrative poem about a painting she created in the third grade. She contrasted the peaceful world of the painting, which represented a quiet, unspoiled landscape, with the realities of living in a city where many residents continue to experience pollution, violence, and racism.

3-0e7f58.png Veronica with fellow Youth WORD poet-athletes backstage at last year’s Our Words Our City.

Though the poem tackled some troubling issues, it ended on a hopeful note by identifying the District’s young people as a catalyst for change: “But maybe / Just maybe a kid like me could change EVERYTHING / And could make the world as perfect as the picture in the painting.”

That is the power of more than 3,000 kids, says Veronica. Together, they can make grown-ups sit up and listen to young people on some of the biggest challenges facing the city. “When you’re on that stage, and you worked hard to be on that stage, grown-ups think it’s more worthwhile, and they think more,” she says.

Once inspired, Veronica hopes that adults will take action on trash, racism, shootings, and other issues affecting Washingtonians. “That’s where grown-ups come in,” she says. “Now, they need to work on it.”

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