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Aug. 24, 2022

Why I Had My Kids Learn to Write & Perform Spoken Word Poetry

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I knew that I didn't want my daughters to struggle in communicating. I wanted them to be confident in sharing their thoughts. I wanted them to know they have a voice that matters. 
So I brought them to their first spoken word poetry workshop. Which we missed, in essence, yet we also didn’t. 
But that’s a great story I’ll leave this video to tell.

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Everything in life requires us to communicate well, to be able to take our ideas from our head and transport them magically to someone else's head. I learned that, as I was going through life, and you know this intrinsically, like I need to be able to hold a conversation. I need to be able to tell people how I feel. We know this. However, until I got into my 30s, I didn't realize just how huge this was because you need to be able to communicate everything. You need to be able to have a great conversation and just have friendships, to have a partner. You need to be able to interview well. If you have a company, you need to be able to pitch your idea, maybe to potential investors or banks. Communication is essential. And even within writing, it is a form of communication. Being able to put your ideas together. Put them in a nice little package and then deliver them with words is essential, it is powerful, it is a skill that I don't think we work on enough. Knowing that, I knew that I wanted my daughters to be able to do this very, very well. So it wouldn't be something that they had to stress about later in life. And that is why I think that the best decision that I ever made was getting my girls involved in spoken word poetry. Now at the time when I first got them into it, I thought that I was just getting them interested in poetry. Little did I know as to the magnitude of what that decision would have upon their lives to this day and for the foreseeable future. Let me tell you a story of how it all kind of broke down. We have to take a trip back into the late 90s, early 2000s. I fell in love with spoken word poetry, and it wasn't a huge scene, but I knew that there were people doing it in the city of Dallas. Had come across some stuff online. I hunted it down, and I even did a piece a long time ago. I performed once in Bishop Arts here in Dallas, but that was a long time ago. Fast forward to the early 2000s and I discovered this show called Def Poetry Jam. In there, on a regular basis, the performers would come onstage and share a story in a way that was just captivating. And that's what happens when you listen to spoken word, is that it's something about the way it's performed, and not just written, but also performed that captures your attention, jolts you a little bit, and informs you of something that you may or may not know. I was watching this show when a Mexican-American poet from Dallas performed. His name was Joaquin Zihuatanejo, feel free to Google him. He was fantastic. He literally gave me goosebumps and to find out that he was from Dallas was amazing to me. Not too long after that, there was a story printed here in the local newspaper where they're were sharing all the various artists that were up-and-coming in the city of Dallas. And lo and behold, guess who was there? That's right. Joaquin was in it, and I was reminded of him in that moment. Facebook was still in its infancy, and I had just got on, and I searched him, found him, and befriended him. He accepted my friendship request. Not long after that, I noticed that he was trying to put together events, and teaching, and doing workshops for youth, for the young kids. That immediately got my attention. But there was a problem. The workshops were intended only for teenagers because he was trying to put together the Dallas Youth Poets, with the intention of them training, getting better writing and performing, and eventually actually competing. Well, my daughters at the time were nine and seven. They were not old enough to compete. They were not old enough to be a part of the team, but yet I still reached out and asked him if it would be okay if I brought my daughters. He said okay, not a big deal. But of course, I had to be okay with the subject matter because spoken word is a very vulnerable art form. The artists and the poets share some very intimate stories. And, in many ways, it's therapy for them. They share very, very rough and raw stories. They cuss, they talk, I mean, they're teenagers, right? So, they're going to share some things that you may or may not agree with, but at the same time, I felt that it would really benefit the girls for them to witness this, to just get to hear this from people not too much older than them. So I was fine with it. It was my point. What ended up happening, the first time, is that I showed up late. I misunderstood the time that it started, and we got there when it was ending. So I was really heartbroken because I was looking forward to my girls getting to witness it and maybe learn a thing or two. Joaquin, being the fantastic human being that he was, took it upon himself to actually give them a little private lesson. He sat them both down and started walking them through an exercise. He literally did not have to do that. I was not expecting anything like that, but in that moment, he didn't know that then, I didn't know that then, nobody knew this, but in that moment, he planted the seed that would blossom 12 years later. My youngest was a little timid. She tends to be a little more reserved when she first gets introduced to a new idea, but my oldest took it on right away. We continue to come for years, even though they could not compete. They did every exercise. They did every performance. My youngest, one of the poems that still comes to mind, one of her first pieces that she literally would perform onstage, was about lettuce. It was titled "Lettuce." Innocent. Beautiful. And that's the thing. It doesn't even really matter what you write about, it's what's relevant to you. My girls did it. They did the work. They sat there with their peers. They listened, they applauded them, they supported, they became a family, and it was the most beautiful thing to witness, but they also stood up. They would stand up and perform their pieces every single time. They'd be given prompts in every workshop, and they would go through them and perform them with no reservation. Fast-forward 10 or 12 years or so, my daughters are now 19 and 17, and they both are excelling in a lot in their life. My youngest is in a band. She does all these things. She has the capacity and this willingness to stand up onstage and perform. She has done interviews for various things and is able to excel in them because she has that skill that she refined. She got all these reps over the years to feel confident when she speaks. One of the biggest benefits from this entire adventure was realizing that they have a voice, that their voice matters, that they have an opinion, that opinion matters. And that they can stand up onstage and actually share it with people. So when someone interviews them or asks them questions, even if they don't know each other, they're able to do it very, very well. They're able to communicate their ideas or opinions without necessarily flinching too much. Now, they still get nervous, don't get me wrong. But they're able to do it nonetheless. My oldest is able to do the very same thing. She now has a job. And she is able to take on tasks without little reservations. She accepts challenges willingly, and she's able to also articulate herself comfortably even though she's surrounded by adults. Where she works, she's the youngest one there, but she's able to excel. And I believe a lot of that has to do with spoken word poetry, with the workshops and all the reps they put in over the years. I do believe that being involved in sports is an incredible activity that everyone should do because it teaches you a lot of things. But I also believe that we need to put more of a focus on the geeky things in life, on writing, on speaking, on debating. I think one of the other things that made it successful is that they were surrounded by other young individuals that were also being vulnerable in sharing. It allowed them to bond and grow together and also feel a little to no reservation around sharing and around writing. Get your kids involved in that. They will thank you later because they will be able to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It won't be a big deal. That's it for today. Thank you for tuning into today's episode of the podcast. I appreciate you listening. Please do me a favor and drop me a review if you're listening on iTunes, follow me everywhere that you do listen to your audio podcasts. It would mean a great deal to me. And until next time, buh-bye.