This story has been updated.
A D.C. slam poetry team won first prize at an international festival last weekend.
The 2014 Brave New Voices Festival, the largest youth slam poetry festival, attracted 50 teams from around the country and five international cities, and ended Saturday night with the “Grand Slam Finals.”
It’s the first time the D.C. Youth Slam Team came in first place. Last year, the team won second place prompting a resolution from the the D.C. Council, said Jonathan B. Tucker, who is also one of the team’s coaches.
Here’s a video of the poem “Columbusing” that helped get the team into the semi-finals. The poem suggests a new term should be admitted to the Merriam Webster dictionary. “Columbusing. Verb. White people discovering and glorifying existing things in” communities of color.
The poem was written by Malachi Byrd, a 2014 graduate of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in the District who plans to attend Princeton University in the fall, and Thomas Hill, a rising senior at Magruder High in Montgomery County.
The team is coached through a non-profit called Split This Rock, which promotes social change through poetry. It also organizes after-school poetry programs at about 20 high schools in the District.
Tucker, the youths program coordinator for the group, said the the group hopes to expand so that every high school has a slam team and that “poets speaking their truths on stage” get as much attention as the school’s basketball team.
Byrd, 17, said he wrote his first poem junior year when a group got started at his school. “It was terrible” but “somehow good enough to get noticed,” he said.
He got onto the 12-member D.C. Youth Slam Team, and even went to the international competition last year in Chicago, though he did not compete on stage.
The competitions are a “beautiful atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone comes to share a poem but, more importantly, everyone comes to listen.”
In addition to Byrd and Hill, two other students competed on stage last week: Morgan Butler, a 2014 graduate of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District and Chyna McCombs, a 2014 graduate of Friendly High School in Prince George’s County.
The D.C. Youth Slam team is performing on Saturday, July 26 at an open mike event from 5-8 pm at THEARC at 1901 Mississippi Ave, SE.