I’m working on a documentary about an after-school program I’m involved with called Poetic Justice. Check out this poem from one of our students and peep an article I wrote about the program below:
North Carolina is emerging as one of the hotbeds of the international spoken word and slam poetry scene, with several nationally ranked slam poets residing right here in the Bull City.
I had the honor of conducting an after-school program with one of the area’s most talented poets, Durham native Kane “Novakane” Smego. A founding member of the Chapel Hill youth poetry organization Sacrificial Poets, Kane is simply one of the dopest poets and human beings I’ve ever met. His lyrical prowess and compelling delivery is exemplary, but it is the vulnerable authenticity of his stories that has made him one of the most respected, and feared, poets in the world.
The program we run together, Poetic Justice, combines two curricula: a series of spoken-word workshops that Kane designed for Sacrificial Poets called YouTh ink and a hip hop curriculum I developed in graduate school called Blackademics. The result is a new hybrid curriculum we’ve been conducting in the Durham Public Schools system for the past 30 weeks. The results have been stunning.
We started in October at Jordan High School, where we recruited close to a dozen students, all whom had failed ninth grade English. We met Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after school for 10 weeks. Kane and I developed a strong bond with the students and were proud to debut their poetry at Superintendent Becoats’ unveiling of his new strategic plan for the Durham public school system titled “One Vision. One Durham.”
Our young Falcons impressed a room full of teachers and DPS administrators, with thought-provoking and evocative poems that covered a range of topics including love, racism and Hurricane Katrina. Their final performance took place downtown at Motorco Music Hall, where they wowed a multi-generational audience of more than 300 enthusiastic Durhamites, as part of Durham Central Park School’s annual Save Our Arts benefit concert.
After the Jordan program concluded, we introduced Poetic Justice over at the Durham Performance and Learning Center. This alternative public school is a last stop for many Durham youth. It’s where many students are shipped when they are kicked out of other schools.
At DPLC we were able to expand the program to three days a week and develop the curriculum so that students could receive a creative writing credit for the course. This was a landmark achievement for Poetic Justice, and we have DPLC Principal Danny Gilfort to thank.
The DPLC students were just as talented as our Jordan group. We started with a classroom full of students who had little to no exposure to spoken-word poetry, and left with a tight-knit group of poets who are good enough to participate in national youth competition.
Kane deserves a tremendous amount of credit. He’s a natural educator with a good ear and a good heart. We tried to build trust in our classroom by creating a safe space where students and teachers alike could open up and be heard. The kids responded brilliantly.
They wrote about their families, sexual abuse, religious discrimination, enslavement, propaganda, the power of poetry and more. One student wrote a poem from the perspective of women revolutionaries in Libya, while another reminisced about their grandma’s home cooking in New Jersey. The wealth of emotion and vivid storytelling pouring out of these students was nothing short of amazing.
Their final performance took place at Flyleaf Bookstore in Chapel Hill. I was so delighted by what I heard that night, I could barely hold the camera in my trembling hands. I watched as five Durham youth stepped out of their respective cocoons and emerged monarchs, with wings forged of stunning creativity, confidence and clarity.
Durham, I wish you could have been there.
If you are interested in supporting the Triangle’s growing poetry scene, check out Durham’s monthly Jambalaya Soul Slam. You can also support the Sacrificial Poets’ monthly open mics and slams, or visit one of the poetry clubs at Northern, Jordan, Chapel Hill and Carrboro High schools.
You won’t regret the investment.