Spoken word poetry has become the voice for silenced youths.
The VoiceBox Youth Slam this Saturday in Durham and the workshop at the Ackland Art Museum this Sunday are two events organized by the Sacrificial Poets that grant youths the opportunity to express themselves through this art form.
SacPoe is an award-winning spoken word poetry organization based in the Triangle area that has been engaging youths from middle, high school and college for 9 years. The group became a non-profit organization last December.
“As an organization, our purpose is to help young folks speak their own truth,” said Will McInerney, executive director of SacPoe. “A lot of them are silenced for complex reasons, so we try to tell them that, ‘Your experiences are important, your story is meaningful, your voice is powerful and you’re the best person to speak that truth into existence.’ We try to help them break that silence.”
SacPoe’s mission is to educate the youths by hosting workshops, events, performances and monthly poetry slams.
“We’re not there to give them some sort of magical secret like poetry. Poetry is a tool, a medium, it’s a mean towards freedom and empowerment,” McInerney said. “We believe that young folks can actually empower themselves when we focus on the power of their own story.”
Kane Smego, the artistic director and one of the original founders of SacPoe, said he finds the form of spoken word poetry empowering because it complements the natural human tendency to tell stories.
“I’ve learned that in telling my stories I could not only get things out of me that I was holding inside, but also find solidarity with other people in telling my own story,” Smengo said.
“So speaking my stories allowed me to not only empower myself but also others around me.”
Smengo said his most memorable experience with SacPoe was witnessing the organization become a nonprofit and being able to make this his full-time job.
“Last year we were able to reach 8,000 youths across North Carolina with our program. I think just finally making our organization happen and succeed is one of those memorable moments.”
As an organization with increasing value, the Development Director Samathryn Witham joined the group in January to manage the rapid growth. She is a former English teacher who obtained her master’s degree in Education from UNC in 2012.
“The kind of work that SacPoe does is the kind of work I want to be involved in — the informal learning, artistic outlet that they provide is something that I’m interested in,” Witham said.
“They’ve provided a space for poetry.”
Youths aged 13-19 who participate in the monthly VoiceBox Slam can win the chance to represent the state in the International Youth Poetry Slam Festival next summer. The workshop at the Ackland draws from the Sahmat Collective exhibition, allowing youth participants to work with SacPoe staff in telling stories about the art in display.
Both McInerney and Smego entered the world of spoken word poetry through the organization. They said they believe in the accessibility of spoken word poetry as the key to its power.
“I’ve seen poetry change young folks’ lives across this community,” McInerney said. “We believe poetry is beautiful and entertaining but we also believe that poetry is transformative — through the practice of poetry we’re creating a stronger and more sustainable generation for the community. That’s what drives our organization.”
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