Genuine emotions about social justice in America came from young voices recently on the West Bank. The youngsters at Martin Behrman Charter Academy of Creative Arts and Sciences participated at their third "Poetry on the Avenue" community event, which brought hundreds of people to the Opelousas Avenue school in Algiers Point.
On the lawn of the historic school building, young lyricists, collectively known as the All Star Poets, individually took to the stage to speak their minds about inequality and culture in New Orleans and around the country.
"A lot of stuff is going on in our community, as we speak. Some people are afraid to express their feelings," All Star Poets and seventh-grader Regine Roberts said about disparity. "When I found poetry... it made me notice that you can find other ways to express your feelings."
Deandrea Simmons, parent of All Star Poets member and fifth-grader Lailah Cain, believes events like this one is important so that adults can know how kids are feeling.
"Things are changing. Babies are talking. These are the generations that are going to change things. That's why I allow her to be expressive about these subjects," Simmons said. "We're having conversations at the kitchen table that we've never had before. These young kids are aware, they're intelligent, and they're speaking."
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The event was founded and organized by one of Behrman's teachers, Michael "Quess" Moore, as a way to give his students an opportunity to proclaim their feelings and exercise imagination through this expressive art form.
"As an English teacher, I saw that everyday curriculum didn't always get to that. A lot of times I had to maneuver into it," Moore said. "If I can just put the absolute focus and lens just on the poetry, I can let them go. Let their spirits free. Let their imaginations wander and go as far as it needs to. And a lot of emotional healing, quite honestly, comes out of that."
Cain echoed her teacher's theory, saying that her piece, entitled, "United Decendents of Africa," allowed her to release bottled-up emotions.
"I actually had a lot of feelings boiling inside me, and that's not very good, and so it just opened me up and I felt happier," Cain said after her performance.
Although poetry took center stage, the creative arts school made a point to feature the talents and skills of students in their other arts-integrated programs. Spectators got a chance to view art pieces designed by Behrman's visual arts students, listen to enchanting sounds by the school's concert band, watch students perform choreographed dance routines, and they caught a glimpse of the brilliant actors in the school's theatre program.
"It's good to let the kids express their talents," Simmons said. "Not just my daughter. All of these kids are talented, and this event lets them showcase their talents."
The program also featured spoken word performances by Moore and another Behrman teacher, Brittany Traveste, as well as community poets Icon Sibly, Honey Sanaa and Sunni Patterson. In keeping with tradition, the event ended with a campus excursion by the school's Wild Opelousas Indian tribe.
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