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    ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival takes over Baton Rouge April 18-21; April 27-28

    Following its huge 2017 victory at the 20th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV), Baton Rouge based arts nonprofit Forward Arts, Inc. is gearing up to select its 2018 All Star Team, by way of its 12th annual ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival, April 18-21; 27-28, downtown Baton Rouge. This year’s theme, “Defining Brilliance”, gives a nod to Baton Rouge’s youth poets who are setting a standard for what literary excellence is in their generation. All events, outside of opening ceremonies, are open to the public. A full schedule is available at Forwardarts.org.
    ALL CITY serves as both a community event, as well as an opportunity for area youth, ages 13-19, to experience performance poetry on a large scale, including a chance for six lucky young poets to represent Baton Rouge at the 21st Annual BNV to be held this year in Houston. The festival also includes workshops, panel discussions and specialty open mic events. At Grand Slam Finals, to be held April 28 at the Manship Theatre, the top ranked team of poets of the competition will be named ALL CITY champions and the six top ranked poets will become the 2018 Forward Arts All Star Team and represent the city at this year’s BNV this July. The 2017 Forward Arts All Star Team won BNV to become the top ranked youth poetry slam team in the world and the first team from the south to win the two decades old competition.
     Web ALL TEEN Poetry Slam
    More than just a competition, ALL CITY has been a springboard for many youth in Baton Rouge to take a career in the literary arts into serious consideration. Five of the festival’s former participants were accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s First Wave spoken word cohort – the only program of its kind in the nation. Of the students who already graduated, more than half have pursued careers as educators in the field of English. The festival also adequately prepares youth participants for larger competitions like Brave New Voices.
    “ALL CITY allowed me to perform my poetry in front of a huge audience,” said 2017 BNV champion and Forward Arts youth, Imani Sundiata. “Having ALL CITY also gave me a deadline to work towards and help with my time management, because if I wanted to get on the BNV team, I would have to work hard and push myself to finish poems and practice performing them. That training and opportunity gave me the stage experience I needed to feel confident in my poems and writing ability. Altogether, ALL CITY gave me the tools to make me a better performer.”
    A poetry slam is an Olympic-style spoken word poetry competition in which poets perform original writing within a three minute time limit. Originality, physicality and vulnerability are some the hallmarks of successful slam poems. The youth of Forward Arts are under the tutelage of internationally-acclaimed slam poets – executive director Chancelier ‘xero’ Skidmore, Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, 2013; program director Desireé Dallagiacomo, a multi-time international poetry slam finalist and viral video sensation; and Donney Rose, a 2018-2019 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. The staff of Forward Arts collectively has more than 15 years of experience as teaching artists and administrators of youth spoken word poetry.
     Anyone interested in volunteering at the festival may contact volunteer coordinator, Roe Lewis, at Roneshialewis@mybrcc.edu.
    The ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival began in 2007 and is the only festival of its kind in the region. It has hosted hundreds of youth poets in the Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.FA_SlamFlyer-Back_2018-edited
     Forward Arts, Inc. fosters personal and social transformation by providing arts instruction, literary education, and youth development in Southeastern Louisiana.
    Festival Schedule
    Wednesday, April 18thCYPHER NIGHT (competing participants only)

    5:30-8:30PM
    Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, 427 Laurel St.
    Thursday, April 19th & Friday, April 20th
    PRELIMINARY BOUTS #1-6
    5:30-9:30PM
    Mid City Ballroom, 136 S. Acadian Thruway
    Saturday, April 21st
    POETRY + LIVE MUSIC Concert
    7:00-10:00PM
    Mid City Ballroom, 136 S. Acadian Thruway

    Friday, April 27th

    ReVision
    7-10PM
    The Parlor, 705 St. Joseph St.
    Saturday, April 28th
    GRAND SLAM FINALS hosted by Ebony Stewart
    6-9pm
    Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St.
    *Tickets available at manshiptheatre.org*

     

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    Youth culminate traumatic year through poems of resilience

    “Here Still” was the mantra of this year’s ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival, a theme imagined from a season of tragedy that both publicly and personally affected festival participants. Held over two weekends in April throughout downtown Baton Rouge, the festival’s culminating event on April 8, punctuated the youths’ tribute to the resilience of the city in the aftermath of a turbulent summer, which included the sudden passing of 2016 festival participant and McKinley High School graduate Kaiya Smith.

    “The theme of this year’s festival saw our students examining the tragedies of last summer from both a critical and cathartic lens,” said Donney Rose, marketing director and events coordinator at Forward Arts. “About half of our festival participants wrote poems that carefully examined what it was to live in a city engulfed in civil unrest and natural disaster. The other half wrote a great deal about what it was to process the loss of a friend with whom they had shared a festival stage just last year.”

    To further tribute Smith, festival coordinators, joined by Smith’s mother, Petrouchka Moise, infused her words and images throughout festival displays, even presenting the first-ever Kaiya Smith Award for WordCrew Excellence to Tyler Scott – a member of Forward Arts’ afterschool poetry writing collective and festival participant. The award gifts the recipient an all-expense paid trip to the 20th annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV) to be held in July in San Francisco, where the top ranked poets of ALL CITY grand slam finals will compete. Smith was a member of the 2016 team that ranked 5th in the world.

    Olivia Williams, Chazzi Hayes

    Olivia Williams and Chazzi Hayes perform tribute poem in honor of Kaiya Smith. Photo by Leslie D. Rose.

    “This year has been bittersweet. Every moment with our team is a painful reminder of what we’ve lost – My Kaiya. Our Kaiya,” said Chelsea Schilling, English teacher at McKinley High School and co-coach of its poetry slam team. “Although it hurts, we are still here. We will continue to write, continue to perform, continue to be heard, for us, and for her. I am truly amazed at what these students can do and I am so thankful that Forward Arts gives them a space where their voices will be heard.”

    McKinley High School placed second, following a team from Baton Rouge Magnet High School who won the title of 2017 ALL CITY Champions. Finalists also included a second BRMHS team and a team from Port Allen High School. All poets who performed individually had the chance to earn a spot on the 2017 Forward Arts All Stars slam team to compete at BNV – this year they are Jazmyne Smith, Olivia Williams, Chazzi Hayes, Kalvin Morris, Imani Sundiata, and Imani McCullam.

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    2017 ALL CITY champions Baton Rouge Magnet High School poets Donovan Thomas, Jayda Jefferson, Rikki Willis (coach), Chazzi Hayes, Kalvin Morris, and Olivia Williams. Photo by Leslie D. Rose.

    Forward Arts has sent a team to BNV since 2006. The first ALL CITY festival was held in 2007 and remains the only festival of its kind in the region, having hosted hundreds of youth poets, ages 13 to 19. It was created to provide an elevated platform to youth voices, while also appealing to Louisiana’s storied festival culture. Throughout its 12 year history, youth from Baton Rouge and surrounding rural communities have found an outlet through Forward Arts’ programming.

     

    “Students were able to express this year’s theme through acceptance, support, and encouragement for all participants,” said Michael Hilton, assistant principal at Donaldsonville High School and coach of its poetry slam team. “We all were able to connect to the theme: flood victims, rural community students who tend to be forgotten, minorities, and those with preferences different than the majority of us – we are all connected; we are all vitally important to our future; we are all Here Still.”

    Hilton was the recipient of the 2017 ALL CITY Coaches Award that honors coaches who showcase exemplary dedication to their team.

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    2017 Forward Arts All Stars slam team Imani McCullam, Kalvin Morris, Chazzi Hayes, Imani Sundiata, Jazmyne Smith and Olivia Williams. Photo by Leslie D. Rose.

    The Spirit of the Slam award was presented to the Louisiana School for the Deaf for displaying noteworthy sportsmanship throughout the festival. This year the school had so many students interested in participating for the ALL CITY that they sent two teams to compete.

    “This event affords each of our students the opportunity to share with others their life experiences as young deaf people, as well as their own heartfelt issues, and we can’t thank Forward Arts enough for providing such a venue,” said Lisa Cook, instructor of high school language and theatre at Louisiana School for the Deaf and coach of its poetry slam team. “The support of the other teams, as well as the validation of their ‘voice,’ is invaluable.”

    A poetry slam is an Olympic-style spoken word poetry competition in which poets perform original writing within a three minute time limit. Originality, physicality and vulnerability are some the hallmarks of successful slam poems.

    The youth of Forward Arts are under the tutelage of internationally-acclaimed slam poets, such as executive director Chancelier ‘xero’ Skidmore, a former world poetry slam champion, and program director Desireé Dallagiacomo, a multi-time international poetry slam finalist and viral video sensation. The staff of Forward Arts collectively has more than 15 years experience as teaching artists and administrators of youth spoken word poetry.

    Forward Arts, Inc. fosters personal and social transformation by providing arts instruction, literary education, and youth development in Southeastern Louisiana.

     

     

    By Leslie D. Rose
    Special to The Drum

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