CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement is changing the game, one verse at a time.
“We focus on not just making young people better poets, but better people,” says Greg Corbin, 33, who started the nonprofit organization in 2006 after spending some time teaching in Philadelphia public and charter schools.
He says that while in the classroom he realized that many young people were not engaged, yet yearned to feel connected to those around them.
“Back then, you had to be 21 to get in a lot of places,” says Corbin. “So young people didn’t have an opportunity to speak about what was going on in their generation.”
The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (“PYPM”) gave young people a safe space to be themselves.
“You can laugh, you can cry, and there are people there to support you and do the same thing with you,” says Corbin, who is reflective about his journey with PYPM.
After seven years, Corbin says, the organization has grown substantially. He says it began with a reach of just 100 to 150 youth poets; today, it reaches thousands.
“At one point, I was doing everything myself,” says Corbin. “I was ripping and running. I had to raise money by just going into a bar and just asking for a dollar.”
These days, PYPM has lots of volunteer mentors who help run weekend workshops, monthly poetry slams, and travel with youth poets to compete in national and international poetry competitions.
PYPM is also more structured now: it has a board, a strategic plan, and is seeking more funding to build its own space to become a permanent fixture in Philadelphia.
“We received a grant from Knights Arts (Foundation),” Corbin tells KYW Newsradio, “and that grant is going to be used to get us a building so we can operate not only as a learning spaces but also as an office for the staff. Our next goal is to get funding for an operational budget so we can get a director. Right now we do all of this on our blood, sweat, and tears,” he adds.
He says PYPM teaches young people to dream big, raise their standards, and find their purpose.
And it’s working. Philly Youth Poets have performed in Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, San Jose, San Francisco, and in New York City as a part of the “Brave New Voices” International Poetry Competition. They won in 2007 and in 2011.
“When you show them that they are geniuses, when you show them that they can explore, that there is some character inside them to be developed and they can actually go on a journey and bring it to the world, that’s when you have change,” Corbin says.
Listen to the extended CBS Philly interview about “Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement” (runs 6:00)…