“When Liz and I agreed to coach the Books of Hope :Words For Deaf Ears Slam Poetry Team , we knew they were going to make history and make Boston proud.” Books of Hope Artistic Directors Ashley-Rose and Liz Gray could not have been more right. The Books of Hope (BOH) youth poets composed of Aminata Keita, Arlene Baldwin, Claire Aicindor, Jordan Young, and Yolandi Cruz who place 1st in the City of Boston and 2nd in the State in the 2012 Massachusestts Louder Thank A Bomb Competition.
The Books of Hope (BOH) program is literacy empowerment program that brings creative writing to youth in communities where they lived.By partnering with local housing developments,drug rehab facilities and youth programs BOH is able to make positive change in Boston and across the state.
“Words for Deaf Ears is like Boston’s Poetry Dream Team.” That is how Books of Hope coach Ashley-Rose describes her Words for Deaf Ears team made of youth authors from Roxbury,Dorchester, Roslindale,Somerville and Cambridge. Ashley-Rose and Liz Gray spent the last 4 months training Books of Hope poets to compete in the LTAB poetry slam.
“I love my city.” said Ashley-Rose.” I attended Boston Public Schools and Boston Centers For Youth a Family. I am as Boston as B.N.B.L. I gained so much from teachers,coaches and mentors who built me up.So to whom much is given,much is required.I know its my duty whether through arts,athletics or activism to build a better Boston.To have the chance to give back and coach teen authors from Boston, who didn’t think they anyone wanted to hear their poems, then have them place 1st in the City of Boston and 2nd in the State in a national slam competition, I am beyond proud of them .Their words didn’t fall upon deaf ears.”
Its hard to believe it when you see WFDE on stage but they did not think they had the ability to bring their poetry to life. “I am a confident author and playwright but I doubted myself on the stage. But by studying under Liz, Ashley-Rose and Soul at the Books of Hope Program, I learned to breathe air into my poetry, I learned to write and perform my life.”, says Boston Arts Academy senior Yolandi Cruz.
Yolandi Cruz was able to bring in 10’s with her salsa syncopated spoken-word piece Farmers Market that criticizes the US for celebrating Christopher Columbus day. “Farmers Market is from my first Books of Hope book called Jump released last year.For the last few months I worked closely with BOH staff, Ashley-Rose and James Milord to make the poem Farmers Market tell the story of my people on stage.” Her people ,who reign from Domincan Republic, heard her clearly because Yolandi was featured in the #1 Latin Newpaper El Planeta this past April.
The stories for “my people” theme resonances with Books of Hope poets, especially when you hear musician turned poet, Claire Lyric perform her ode poem “Tuskeegee”, that honors the Tuskeege Airmen and highlights how Black history is American history.” I didn’t even know who the Tuskeege Airmen were until I joined Books of Hope and Ms.Ashley-Rose and Liz talked to us about it in class. From there I agreed to do a poetry piece on the Airmen. Books of Hope staff helped me study and create a poem that I will remember forever. I never thought that my piece would have this effect on people. People say my poem empowered them.That’s amazing!” Claire Lyrics is the BOH Haitian, singer,song writer and guitarist that had crowds in tears of pride, after every performance. Prior to the BOH program, Claire Lyrics never thought she could slam. “I sing, play the guitar and consider myself an artist. It wasn’t until I started going BOH that I realized I am a writer. I am a poet.”
Books of Hope’s poets build self-efficacy and skill by attending writing classes taught by BOJ staff 2 times a week, that prepares them to publish their own books.” I was ready to write a new book this year. I did not know I would become a slam poet.” The words of Aminata Keita, an immigrant from Africa, rang clear at the LTAB Competition.
Her poetry piece Accent, addressed the discrimination faced in America by immigrants who have accents.”I did not want to perform the piece because people always say its hard to understand what I say because of my accent. But after I performed, I think America heard me and clearly.I am an immigrant.I am American. I am a poet.”
With intense writing courses, performance workshops and practice, BOH poets went from authors to performers. The fact that they are authors gives them a unique touch in the slam world. “Their poetry has the ability to exist on the page and on the stage. Every time they open heir mouths on that stage, they are not only sharing poetry with you, they are sharing their lives.Their poems are their lives. Books of Hope poets understand they are the voice for the Other Side of Ruggles, the side of Boston that is often silenced.”, says coach Ashley-Rose.
“What surprises me most is how many people doubted them in the beginning. Because they were authors from the projects, with no slam poetry experience and they were coached by Liz and I, artist who don’t believe in slam, people counted them out from the beginning. Plus most slams tend to score urban poets poorly because they do not understand our stories.To see BOH poets turn around and go further than anyone expected, including themselves, it reminded me of why Liz and I joined LISC-AmeriCorps and chose teach poetry. It reminded me that poetry heals the broken and breaks barriers.”
Some of the most touching poetry came from Arlene Baldwin and Jordan Young. Arlene is a community organizer from Boston, who turned her boyfriend’s 2010 unsolved murder into a poem about perseverance and taking a stand for peace.”When I was asked to join the program I was scared because I didn’t have anything to write about and never wrote a poem. But when Books of Hope asked us to write about something we lost, the Jordan poem just came out. I didn’t know it but or so many months I was walking around depressed and helpless because of Jordan’s murder but writing poetry taught me to address my problems.I realized through the BOH program that I can save other teens from feeling alone and that I can stop bullets with my words.”
But it was Jordan Young’s Piece “D.J. Henry” that really showed LTAB that Books of Hope is about “writing” what’s wrong. Through the angelic, social justice ,spoken-word piece called “D.J Henry”, Jordan Young brings light to the tragic death of D.J Henry, who was killed by police in New York.
“I wrote D.J. Henry because I know that until we stop police brutality me and every young, Black male in this country is a potential D.J Henry case.” When asked how he prepared to write the piece Jordan stated that,” I prayed and researched. I spent 2 days a weeks for 3 months, working at BOH finding facts about the D.J Henry case . I spent the other time praying that I would do justice for D.J and his family poetically, because they deserve it.” Poetically speaking,justice was served.
If you would like more info about Books of Hope summer programming,workshops and performances please visit booksofhope-ma.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com