The themes of self-empowerment, racism and family were the threads that ran through many of
the poems in the semi-final round of the 18Annual Grand Slam Poetry Contest held at The Point last month.
Urban Word NYC, a citywide literary arts organization for students, hosts the event every year at The Point, starting with the preliminary slams around the city, including Hunts Point, and ending with the final event at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in mid-April. The contest is for kids ages 13 to 19 and is open to all kinds of performers, including rappers, lyricists and poets, in all kinds of styles – hip-hop, manifesto, spoken word or poetry. Urban Word also hosts student workshops and open mic nights around the city.
This year’s semi-final contest started with Michelle Yang, whose poem called “Yellow Faced Daughter” covered the topics of racism, survival and family. She explained how her family, especially her father, kept on inspiring her to give and show kindness, even if it isn’t reciprocated by others. She also told the story of how her family continues to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means struggling in silence.
“My father said to me, you see we were never meant to survive, we were meant to struggle in silence all these years,” said Yang while reciting her poem. “But no matter what, it’s not race or ethnicity, it’s about remembering where you came from and remembering those who love and care for you when nobody else would. Even if you continue to give kindness to others while it’s not reciprocated back, you must have the courage to continue to share goodness with everyone.”
Audience members seemed enthralled by the performers, who travelled from all over the city to compete.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I have to admit that the creativity of some of these kids is pretty impressive,” said Tiffany Mui, who came from Flushing to support a friend who was performing. “Their views and perspectives on life are pretty motivational, since they talk about
all different types of topics such as race, gender, family, etc.”
Throughout the event, Sophia Snow, the associate director for Urban Word, explained that only three contestants would make it to the final round of the contest, and have a chance to perform in the Apollo.
“The Grand Slam contest is great ways for young individuals with artistic and poetic vision to express themselves,” said Snow. “It’s just amazing how many creative minds we have here performing this evening. We want to encourage all other people to let their talents rise to the surface and share their own individual stories.”
The poetry contest was a break in the regular routine for some audience members.
“To listen to all of these different poems and speeches about life is pretty refreshing because I don’t really get to see or hear something like this often,” said Elizabeth Thompson, a junior at LIU Brooklyn and Hunts Point native. She also added that choosing just three winners is too tough, especially with 10 to 15 people performing. “It’s pretty cut-throat if you ask me.” Chloe Chen’s poem tackled the issues of racism, stereotypes, language barriers and the difficulty
of not being able to speak up for yourself and your beliefs. She talked about how she failed to speak out against injustice in her neighborhood.
“Newcomers wanted to kick me and my family out of my home and no matter how much I tried and wanted to, I was afraid to speak out to against those who were always against me,” said Chen while reciting her poem. “But when I couldn’t, I turned to writing. When I couldn’t speak out against others, I felt like a fish flopping out of water, but when I put my pen to paper, I felt like I could accomplish anything.”
Snow also took the stage and performed her own poems, which talked about her mother and father and the experience of being a daughter, and how she wished some things would have been different in their life.
The winners were two young women named Leslie Moreaux and Shativa Griswould, along with a young rapper named Ameer Brown.
Moreaux, in a performance full of emotion, spoke about how she overcame bullying in her childhood and how she was able to learn from her mistakes in life to have a better and brighter future. Griswould’s poem was about the difficulty of overcoming being judged because she was African and not American black. She emphasized that even though she’s African, that doesn’t mean she should be treated any differently from other African Americans, and added that no
matter who ridiculed or criticized her, she was proud of who she was and where she came from.
Ameer Brown’s rap performance, which was one of the most impressive ones of the contest, expressed how he believed in himself from the very beginning, how he overcame all the doubters in his life, and how he will rise to any challenge and meet it head on.
The Grand Slam Semi Final concluded with a big round of applause for all the contestants.