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KIPP students finish second in national poetry slam

Lynn's Michelle Garcia and Saugus's Temitope Sholola shook San Francisco with their words.

LYNN– Michelle Garcia and Temitope Sholola went to San Francisco and spoke words that hit the audience louder than a bomb.

Garcia, 18, of Lynn and Sholola, 18,  of Saugus took second place at the 20th annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Championship in San Francisco in July.

Not knowing the team would receive place so high, Garcia said that you don’t expect to lose, but you never expect to win.

“Once you get there it’s kind of real,” she said. “When we placed second I was like ‘wait, what?’”

After placing first place at May’s Massachusetts “Louder than a Bomb” (LTAB) statewide spoken word competition, the team advanced to the next level.

At the Indie Poetry competition in Boston, Garcia placed second and Sholola finished fifth, punching both of their tickets to the West Coast to compete against more than 50 teams from all over the world.

Garcia, Sholola, and three other Massachusetts teens represented the State Wide Youth Arts Non-Profit Mass Literacy Education and Performance organization, who brought the team to California.

The North Shore duo and their team had four days of competition. On the first day, Sholola and a teammate did a piece about body shaming. The next day, two Mass LEAP poets did a poem about stepping and the way dance can be revolutionary for black people. The third day involved an individual poem by a teammate. The final day was Garcia and Sholola’s poem called “White Poets,” discussing the topic of white poets that write from the perspective of people of color to score points in poetry competitions, Garcia said.

Having taken first place during the first three days of competition, the team placed second on the final day behind a team from Baton Rouge, and edged out finalists from Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Garcia said the greatest part about competing is not winning, but just making it to the final round.

“(Spoken word poetry) is not like any other sport where you don’t cheer for the other team,” she said. “There is so much vulnerability in the other pieces that it sucks that it is a part of the competition.”

She said there is a higher purpose to performing poetry,

“Slam poetry is not about the points, it’s about the poetry. All summer, these teens have been working long hours to create collaborative poems, blending their unique styles into several multi-voice performance pieces to be used in the competition,” said Mass LEAP Managing Director Alex Charalambides. “They really committed themselves to their craft and elevated their words through rehearsal, and their hard work paid off.”

The Boston-based collective of poets and educators, Mass LEAP provided for the platform for positive youth development through performance poetry helped develop the young artists throughout the summer.

At Mass Leap, coaches and mentors Porsha Olayiwola and Jonathan Mendoza pushed the team to believe in their writing and themselves, Garcia said.

Having been familiar with the competition scene, she said she actually saw Mendoza perform at LTAB when he was a senior in high school.

The poet, who studied political science in college, helped Garcia develop a voice, which in turn helped her enter into the world of activism.

Before attending the national competition, Olayiwola hoped to experience the learning environment the Brave New Voices competition would create, she told Mass Leap.

“I’m looking forward to listening to other people’s stories and the inspiration that comes from being in such a creative positive environment,” she said. ​

The competition had done just that, according to Garcia.

“There’s so much emotional labor that goes into all of your pieces that once you go there, it is almost surreal,” she said. “The teams we went against were amazing and all so different.”

Having furthered her poetic form over the past few years, Garcia has won adult slams in Boston, giving her the chance to go to Dallas and compete at the Women of the World poetry slam.

She could not repeat any of her work, leading Garcia to write up seven new poems for the international stage.

“They (Women of the World) told me I was one of the youngest ever sent, having been only 18 years old among competitors who were 25 and 27,” she said.

Garcia and Sholola both graduated from KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate High School in 2017, where they honed their poetic voices by participating in the Indigo Society Poetry club.

In the Fall, Garcia will go on to the University of Massachusetts Lowell to study political science and creative writing. Sholola, a Posse scholar recipient, will go to Denison University and study sociology, politics, and economics.


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