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I created the Bronx Youth Poetry Slam to bridge the gap between young people and adults, to show our borough’s youth that their problems do count, and to help the rest of us reevaluate ourselves. Adults need to see that our kids face real problems, and we can help them deal with those issues by sharing what we did going through similar ones.

Working with our community partners, we wanted to make the 2014 Slam better than the last— broadening youth participation, increasing the audience, and attracting media coverage—by reaching out to all the community centers and libraries in Community Board 8 and working with sponsors and local merchants to donate prizes. Eric “The Word” Maldonado worked with the kids to strengthen their poems. You can’t have a slam without good judges, so we recruited “Special K” from Treacherous Three to lead our collection of cynics. The most important ingredient for a successful slam, however, was pizza for the poets!

For these young poets, the Slam provides an opportunity to show the world their private Bronx; their struggles, and the way they tackle human issues, be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hispanic, black, brown, or white, 12 years old or 16.

Despite the kids’ ethnic and religious differences, all the poems were dynamic and personal. The audience cried and laughed as the poets used doggerel and rhyme to map their everyday struggles and fears. Youngsters in the audience supported their cohort poets by snapping their thumb and second finger as praise instead of clapping. The self-reflective poems revealed many impassioned themes; these poets made me feel their pain, as though I were walking in their shoes without being there myself. See and listen for yourself, below.

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