By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A team of six Philadelphia youths is working eight hours a day, five days a week to prepare for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival that opens at Penn’s Annenberg Center later this month.
Brave New Voices is a battle of words…a multi-round poetry slam competition for youth ages 13 to 19.
“Philly has never placed less than top five in the world,” says 17-year-old Ainye Clarke. A self-described “outcast,” Clarke is one part of the Philadelphia team called, “Team Black” as in “black out” because the group is so focused on winning they’ve “blacked out” everything else this summer.
“It’s really intense,” says 19-year-old Kevin Abbot. The Martin Luther King, Jr. high grad is a six-year spoken word veteran. “When I was in 8th grade I saw video of the Philly team and it inspired me to take up spoken word. The team won in 2007 and came in second in 2012.”
Abbott and Clark say the team of seven hails from all over Philadelphia and also includes Teiarha Mitchell, Shaneka Briggs, Imani Rothwell, Nayo Jones and Sabrina Slychenco. Only six members will take the stage in the three-day competition. They’ve been holed up at the Painted Bride Arts Center on Vine Street in Old City for weeks writing, researching and rehearsing the spoken word verses they’ll perform when they take the stage beginning July 16th though the 19th.
“Practice usually starts at 12 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m., sometimes 10 p.m.” says Abbott, “but it’s not as bad as it sounds. We do spend some time coming up with jokes and stuff…but it’s definitely a whole lot of work.”
But Abbott says the hard work is worth it:
“So many opportunities will open up from this, we have already seen other team members benefit from this.”
Clarke says the competition and poetry, in general, gives youth a chance to tell their story:
“For the people who say that our generation is a failure– look passed that– and look at the folks who are actually doing something,” she says, “don’t underestimate us.”
More than 500 youth from around the world will compete. Tickets to performances are free.
Listen to some of the poems that will be performed in this CBS Philly podcast: