By Tony DelaRosa
What if students had the chance to interrogate the American Dream? Would they accept such an immense and overwhelming task? Would they be able to address power and privilege?
Ny’lasia Brown and Sumeya Aden, Match Charter Public School eighth graders, grapple with these questions almost every Monday after school during our Boston Pulse Youth Spoken Word Club meetings. Boston Pulse, like its predecessor and sister organization Indy Pulse (www.indypulse.org), works to empower youth voices in Boston.
Last month, our students were invited to perform for Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell at “Speak Up! Art is Action” organized by Mass LEAP (Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective) and hosted by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Ny’lasia and Sumeya were two of 11 students to perform, and the only middle school-aged poets to take the microphone.
To prepare for the event, every student poet was asked to respond to the prompt: “What does the American Dream mean to you?” Through the Boston Pulse curriculum, we studied the works of famous and local slam poets including Paul Flores, Melissa Oliva-Lozada, Clint Smith, Denice Frohman who all write about identity, history, citizenship, and oppression.
Specific lines from thirteen-year old Ny’lasia’s poem, “The American Nightmare,” react with a sharp awareness of the perception of being Black in America today:
These haunting lines from thirteen-year old Sumeya’s poem, “The Cowards vs. Those Who Struggle,” pay homage to those those who she doesn't believe are protected by the American Dream:
You can watch them deliver their full poems here.
Amanda Torres, executive director of Mass LEAP, hosted a Q&A for student performers, where they had an opportunity to not only to talk about “why they write,” but also to share their opinions about current events, including the presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement and more. You could see the pride students felt as the adults in the audience listened carefully and weighed their perspectives.
Torres said during the ceremony: “Art is linked to social action, and young people have the power to shape the world we exist in…” As their former English teacher and spoken word coach, it has been my pleasure to learn from Ny’lasia, Sumeya and their classmates, as they shape the work I do everyday.
Tony DelaRosa is a 2012 TFA Alum, Indy Pulse and Boston Pulse co-founder, and 7th Grade English and Composition Teacher at Match Charter Public Middle School.