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Young CMSD artists perform in America SCORES Poetry Slam (video, photo gallery)


Some of Cleveland’s youngest artists performed their own stirring blend of silly, sweet and serious Friday night at the America SCORES-Cleveland 11th annual Poetry Slam.

The subject matter of their creative work might have seemed jarring in another setting or from anyone other than these young poets – one set of verses celebrating the youthful, simple joys of soccer immediately followed by a withering, older-than-their-years lament about the violence of the world around them.

But the rhymes and raps and chants all poured out easily from the third- through fifth-grade “poet-athletes” in their onstage performance on the Metro Campus of Cuyahoga Community College.

“We like rapping and pencil tapping,” the Luis Muñoz Marin boys team announced in one poem, for example. “Our poetry is cool/It makes other schools drool/When we get on the field/LMM boys rule.”

Or, from the Fullerton girls team:

(Love) smells as sweet as my
grandmother's vanilla perfume
It smells like fried chicken cooking in
the kitchen.
Love looks and smells so good! 

But that same group of girls, in the very same poem, “Love,” ask a sobering question and offer some sage advice: "I hear people say 'I love you' all the time/but do they really mean it?" and “When someone tells you they love you, you should ask them, ‘Will you hurt me?’ ”

Volunteers from America SCORES-Cleveland, a program that blends athletics and poetry to teach "kids how physical activity, creative expression and teamwork nurtures a strong body, mind and character" had been working with CMSD students since the beginning of the school year. The volunteers have been teaching the students how to write poetry and then crafting their live performances.
The America SCORES coaches, with the support of the schools,  had also challenged the students this year to consider writing poems in response to the apparent rise in violence in their city as well as their own soccer and sports activities.

The Mound STEM girls team responded with:

Put down our fists and talk it out
Solving problems doesn’t
Always mean violence
And real changes will
Come about soon.

The boys team from Wade Park turned their poem “I Stand” into a public promise, saying in unison that they each “raise my hand/I’m making a promise/to take a stand.”

I stand against violence
So I stand for peace.
I stand against crime
So it will decrease
I stand against bullying
And weapons, too.
I stand for justice for me
And for you.

Several hundred family members, school staff and other supporters responded to each performance with tumultuous applause and each school group would leave the stage embraced in a group hug. (see photo gallery, below)

District CEO Eric Gordon began the program by calling out each school by name to allow their supporters to cheer loudly. Poet-athletes came from Mound STEM, Fullerton, Artemus Ward, Luis Muñoz Marin, Robinson G. Jones, Case, Wade Park, Willow and Buhrer Dual-Language schools.

Each group performance was followed by an individual reading.

“Are you ready for some poetry tonight?” Gordon asked. “This is one of my favorite events each year. I love the team poems and the individual poems, and I’m glad I don’t have to judge them, because you are all winners to me. Now, let’s have some poetry!”

Three team awards were given Friday:

• The Third Federal Foundation Gold Mic Award to the first-place teams, the Wade Park boys and Fullerton girls.
• The GCNCA P4SS Silver Mic Award to second-place teams, the Buhrer boys and Wade Park girls.
• The Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Bronze Mic Award to third-place teams, the RG Jones boys and Mound STEM girls.

Individual winners will be notified in the coming weeks, and one poet will be chosen to represent America SCORES Cleveland at the National Poetry SLAM in New York City in April 2016.

David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, also spoke to the students and families on Friday night. Poet Josia Quarles, soccer coach at Fullerton, hosted the event, backed up by a band that played jazz, funk and rock music between poetry performances.

America SCORES was founded in 1994 in Washington DC and currently serves over 8,000 students in school districts with low-income, minority communities. In addition to Cleveland, the list includes Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Vancouver, Canada and Washington D.C.
The program landed in Cleveland in 2004 and now serves more than 600 CMSD students through the partnership with the nine elementary schools, summer programs and a high school alumni program. They sponsor the Poetry Slam in the fall and a soccer tournament in the spring.
“That’s one aspect I love most about America SCORES – it isn’t (one or the other),” said Debi Pence-Meyenberg, executive director of the Cleveland office. “(We) teach our poet-athletes the values of teamwork, leadership and commitment through daily soccer, creating writing and service-learning programming.”

Pence said the group believes that “success on the soccer field and in the classroom translates into success in life.”