John W. North High School

Get Lit: Igniting change one poet at a time

“Our idea [with the Classic Slam] is to use the power of all the people who have come before you and to engage with their wisdom – and then bounce off of that. From that point you’re already so empowered by claiming these words as your own. That’s what makes our model unique,” said Veronika Shulman, Get Lit’s Marketing and Communications Manager.

Participating poets worked on writing and fine-tuning their pieces for months before the Classic Slam. While all of the poets had outstanding performances, some were introduced to slam poetry and the world of Get Lit fairly recently.

“It all started when my drama teacher, Mr. Ames, told us to choose a classic poem and write a spoken word for it. We had a small poetry slam at my school and my team ended up winning so we were given this opportunity. This was my first actual performance and I’ve only ever performed back at our school in our gym. The Classic Slam was a big step up,” said performer Rebecca Lopez.

Get Lit, founded in 2006 by Diane Luby Lane, has been successful in creating a lasting community of young poets and coaches who are passionate about their work.

“This night and the people here just made my performance really special. In the future I would like to keep writing. I might become a teacher of poetry or English because the teachers here are incredible. I want to be just like them,” said iLEAD NoHo performer Caitlyn Bove.

Many of the performers shared personal stories through their poems yet made audience members feel as though they too had gone through the same experiences. Both classic and modern pieces were performed in ways that were genuine and relatable.

“My poetry’s message is for people know they are not alone. It’s like me telling myself what I would have wanted to hear when I was dealing with those situations. Your problems are not just your own and there are people who are going through the same thing as you are. It makes you feel a lot more tranquil and in control of your life when you can see someone else be able to speak about things like that,” said performer Khamal Iwuanyanwu.

The performances at the Classic Slam certainly had an impact on the audience. Student voices filled in the active dialogue that is often missing from most traditional educational settings. The poets provided perspective and helped community members understand how they can inspire change.

“A big problem I see happening in high schools is apathy. Students are not engaging in their education. Sometimes it’s more inspiring to see other people their age be excited about something,” said Shulman. “Spoken word just naturally has an easier way of connecting with modern culture and with high school students. I hope that they feel reconnected with their own ability to make change and I hope they’ll feel reconnected with their own inner voices as well.”

50 schools. 300 poets. One champion. Get Lit poets come from all walks of life but they all come together to share one stage on one night.

From April 28-30 Get Lit–Words Ignite kicked off its 10-year anniversary and hosted its 5th annual Classic Slam, the largest urban youth classic poetry festival in the world. Out of the 50 schools that participated, the final four were invited back to the Grand Slam Finals in the Orpheum Theater on Saturday night.

The Grand Slam Finals were judged by celebrity guests Andrea Gibson, Jessica Oyelowo, Luis Rodriguez, Nate Parker, Patricia Smith and Rory Pullens. iLEAD NoHo High School took first place, Cleveland High School and Animo Inglewood High School tied for second and Harvard-Westlake High School placed third.

During the Classic Slam young poets from all over Southern California gathered together to celebrate youth empowerment and to spark change within the community. Students claimed classic poems of their choice and performed modern spoken word responses. The performances were intensely personal and brought relevant social issues to light. Students responded to issues such as immigration, racist and sexist stereotyping and body positivity.