WEST PALM BEACH — A small crowd gathered at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts to experience the “Words Not Weapons” poetry slam.
The event, hosted by the Palm Beach Association of Black Journalists and The Palm Beach Post on Saturday, Nov. 14, allowed middle and high school students to battle each other with words for a refurbished laptop.
Special guests Jay Gilmore, a WPTV Channel 5 Sportscaster, presented local celebrity Damon Weaver, the 11-year-old Pahokee boy who interviewed President Barack Obama, with a framed letter from Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade.
Earlier in the month, students had auditioned for a slot in the poetry competition, which focused on shedding light on the growing problem of youth violence.
This night was indeed dedicated to the poets, who ranged in age from 14 to 18. But the intensity and intellectual fire that bled from their hearts was on par with adults twice their age.
They spoke about drug abuse, suicide, prostitution, cultural identity, murder and the emotional struggles of life.
“Bullets are dropping like skittles off the rainbow,” recited Anthony Nadeau, a 14-year-old School of the Arts student. The first competitor up to the mic tossed papers into the air as he rattled off page after page.
“Look at you, takin’ people’s lives because you can’t speak intellectually,” said actress Kaena Hood. The 17-year-old student from West Centennial High School in St. Lucie captivated the audience with poise and power.
“We’ve become so uncivilized it’s disgusting,” said rapper Kimberly Charles, a 17-year-old from Palm Beach Gardens High School.
Some poems were personal accounts. Some were based on the reality that kids are exposed to so much more in today’s society than in years past. As Kimberly Charles put it, kids younger than her poets are talking about these same things.
At first, these statements may be surprising, but time is the only thing needed to put their lives into perspective: These students were between the ages of 1 and 5 when the Unabomber killed 3 people and wounded 22; between the ages of 4 and 8 when the Columbine High School Massacre occurred, where 12 students and one teacher were killed, 21 injured; and they were between the ages of 6 and 10 when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, leaving 2,796 victims in a trail of smoke, fire and debris.
Today’s youth may truly have much more to talk about, cry about, be angry about, and most importantly, much more to overcome.
Five poets continued to the second round. Three poets continued the final battle. Amanda Stephens, 17, from Suncoast High School came in third place. A tie between Kaena Hood and Kimberly Charles left the judges and audience conflicted. In an unexpected twist, both were awarded refurbished laptops, but only one was on hand that night.
“I come across so many kids that are angry and don’t really have communication skills,” said Ray Dominguez, the founder of the Write Side Poets organization, who emceed the night’s events.
Dominguez said his organization holds poetry workshops in 26 area schools, and at juvenile detention centers, as well.
“Poetry helps them deal with their everyday emotions,” he said.
Photo by Jesse Swanson. Kimberly Charles