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Harnessing The Power Of Words At Parkdale

Antonia Williams takes the stage at Mocha Hut. The poetry group began as an effort to improve grammar and writing.
Antonia Williams takes the stage at Mocha Hut. The poetry group began as an effort to improve grammar and writing. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

"My poem is about hardships and coming through being oppressed and trying to raise up," he said later. "In the ghetto, you try to rise up from hardships and everything. That's what I am talking about."

Asonganyi-Valdez came to the poetry group last year, hoping to bring up his poor marks in English and improve his test scores. He stayed because performing gave him an opportunity share his experience as a young black man and his sense of the injustice he and others endure.

"I had a kind of rough childhood, so I can relate to overcoming any kind of predicament," he said.

The poetry group was conceived several years ago by Adams as a way to reach out to some of his struggling students. Initially, Adams held two poetry slams a year.

The slams became part of his classes. For an assignment the first week of school, he required his students to memorize a poem and recite it in class. Then, Adams began asking students to write a poem each week and recite it.

"They really got into it," Adams said. "One of the kids said, 'We should have a poetry group.' "

Lyrikal Storm meets with Adams twice a week after school to perfect poems and technique. The students also perform several times a month, on an Internet radio program Friday nights and during regular outings to open-mike nights at such venues as Mocha Hut and Infusions Tea Cafe in Largo.

In the spring, Adams took several students to New York to perform in a national contest. They went as far as the quarterfinals, a remarkable accomplishment for a first-year try, Adams said.

Mary Kehinde, 17, who had dropped out of school for a year, said she reconnected after she joined Lyrikal Storm. Kehinde, a Hyattsville junior, has been identified as intellectually gifted, even though she was making average to below-average grades before she dropped out.

"I had just gotten disconnected with school," she said. "It was a gradual change. I had a lot of home issues with family and all. I was out for an entire school year, then I somehow stumbled upon Lyrikal Storm, and it was a very great refuge for me."

Her grades have improved, although she admits she is still not working to her full potential. "I realize that school is something that I have to do so that I can go to college. It's not necessarily something that I like to do, but I don't hate it."

Prather, a 10th-grader who lives in Riverdale Park, was drawn to the group when she transferred from another school and began looking for a circle of friends.


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