By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia team is the new International Youth Poetry Slam Champion. Philly Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) won the finals of the Brave New Voices (BVN) competition in Atlanta, last week.
It’s the third time the group has brought the title to Philadelphia since it started in 2006.
“I started it because there were no safe spaces for young people to create and write and produce and advocate for themselves,” says executive director Greg Corbin. “When a young person finds the value of their voice, they find the value of themselves. They understand that their story actually means something.”
From a modest poetry night, the program now how twice-weekly writing workshops, monthly slams, an annual city-wide high school slam– and three national titles.
For Jovan McCoy, 19, PYPM was a revelation. Encouraged to go by a teacher, he says, “I was just amazed about all the youths speaking their stories. I didn’t know something like that existed.”
He attended BVN last year, when Philadelphia hosted, but didn’t compete so winning this year as part of the six-person team was “unreal, amazing,” he says.
Corbin says the energy and cohesiveness of this year’s team was unusually strong, though team slamming requires a certain amount of bonding.
The team holds hands as they perform. They co-ordinate their breath so they recite in perfect unison or seamlessly trade pieces of each poem.
McCoy partnered with 18-year-old Jamal Parker for a lightening round entry called “Ashy,” which Parker describes as a comedy poem, though it plays with serious themes.
“Walking outside can be dangerous if you’re black
my people are trying to protect their bodies
and we’re falling victim to our melanin.
There’s a war being waged and we’re losing the battle against
Every time I step outside, it’s only a matter of seconds
before my bare knuckles go from Tiana Brown to Snow White.
You know white privilege is in the air when it literally tries to permeate your skin
when I forget to throw my gloves on
Attack of the ash.
If my ankles are exposed to the cold
Attack of the ash.
There will be people who say, ‘everybody gets ashy,’ #allelbowsmatter
until I see you lathering up in raw shea butter so you don’t look like O
don’t you try to lather up in my struggle.
you can’t identify with looking into the mirror expecting to see chocolate but it looks like God dusted you with too much flour instead
This is why I don’t go to church during Lent. I knew I had to go through Ash Wednesday in my high-water khakis and feel the holy ghost brush past our ankles, our kneecaps are screaming ‘Ashay’
I just pray that the Lord splashed us with some holy water on our forsaken knees or blessed us with some Johnson and Johnson. I pray our lips are being delivered from a chapped and whitened state.
My skin has been waging war against itself, as if cotton never left our fingers.
This is why, we’re in love with our cocoa… butter”
To hear McCoy and Parker perform the poem in the KYW Newsradio studio, listen to the podcast below.