Arts & Culture
9:38 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Teen Poets Compete In 'Louder Than A Bomb'

A semifinal competition in March at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit courtesy: Louder Than A Bomb-KC

The spoken word competition called Louder Than A Bomb, named after the Public Enemy song, started in Chicago, Ill. in 2001. It's now considered one of the largest youth poetry festivals.

Cities across the country, including Kansas City, are launching their own Louder Than A Bomb programs.

A program bridging divides in Kansas City

One of the goals of the program is to bring diverse teens together, from different social, economic, or racial backgrounds, who might not otherwise hear each other's stories.

Paul Richardson, lead organizer for Louder Than A Bomb-KC, teaches English at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan. Two years ago, Richardson watched the documentary, Louder Than A Bomb, which followed four teams in Chicago and "realized it was shifting culture."

Richardson says he incorporates poetry in his classroom as an "engaging go-to activity," but, in the film, he noticed that "kids were participating in this competition across the socio-economic divides of a metropolitan area." Kansas City, he says, has those same divides, and he worked to bring Louder Than A Bomb here. The program started in the metro area in 2013 with 13 teams participating.

Teams compete in finals

On Saturday, March 29, four high schools - Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Missouri, and Shawnee Mission Northwest and Shawnee Mission West in Kansas - competed in the finals at the Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo. A series of preliminary rounds were held in March leading up to this event.

There were five rounds in the finals; poets competed as individuals in the first four rounds, and the fifth was a team performance. After the scores were tallied, the winning team: Paseo Academy. But Richardson points out that, despite the competition, at the end of the night there was a high level of camaraderie.

"They were hugging each other and giving handshakes and talking to each other. The four teams went out to Winstead's and ate cheeseburgers after the show together," he says. "These kids wouldn't know each other if it weren't for this."

A poet with spirit

Unique Hughley, a Paseo Academy senior, won the Spirit of the Slam award; it's given to a poet who embodies the spirit of the competition. In the finals, Hughley dedicated his performance to the audience and, before reading his poem, gave a book to a friend and competitor Sam Gross, a senior at Shawnee Mission Northwest, "to give something back to somebody."

Hughley's poem, Unique, described the challenges of growing up with an unusual name: "Because of my name, I experienced pain that I didn't deserve/Because of my name, I was targeted by derogatory slurs."

His performance was the only one to receive a perfect score. Richardson says, "He just kind of blew everybody away."

View more performances by the finalists in the Louder Than A Bomb-KC competition here.

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