Ny’lasia: I got the black girl magic / No i’m not tryna be dramatic / Why can't I walk in a room and feel ecstatic / I’m not tryna be sarcastic / Yes i’m fantastic / My life has always been full of white man traffic.
Glodie: I’m beautiful like the Atlantic ocean / My life feels like it has been frozen / oh my words they have never spoken / if I succeed they take it as an explosion / I will always be golden / and I know my race was chosen.
It’s April 2017, and my principal has asked our spoken-word poetry organization, Boston Pulse, to open a professional development workshop on the importance of youth voice. For my middle school students, this is meaningful — an opportunity to create space for a public hearing about the diversity, equity, and inclusion issues that affect them. The poem they perform — a piece called “Black Girl Magic” — is a celebration of black female identity and a protest against an education system entrenched in a white-dominant narrative that doesn’t serve their cultural and socio-emotional needs.
For Glodie and Ny’lasia, that performance — and the public hearing space they created — was a chance to push for school discipline policies that were more culturally responsive. They challenged teachers to consider deeper listening and to follow up with students who’d been acting out in class. With their story and self-advocacy, they were able to spearhead a school-wide change in how teachers think of and approach students who may be having problems. They were able to transform mindsets and change how justice is carried out for the entire school.
April is National Poetry Month — a good time to consider the power of spoken-word poetry as a pedagogical tool, as a tool for student voice, and as a driver for transformative change. Here are eight ways that teachers can weave spoken word into their lessons or extracurricular activities: