Writing eases my own suffering…writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.”- Gao Xingjian  

Louder Than A Bomb Florida presented by Nova Southeastern University and UPS, or LTABFLA as we sometimes call it, came back better than ever. In its third year, the poetry competition for high school students across South Florida has grown into a 13-day festival that engages all ages in the community.

The Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network works throughout the year with South Florida high schools to help the youth learn to share and perform their stories through spoken word poetry. LTABFLA showcases the work these students put in and the incredible stories that they have to tell. This year has been no exception.

“I think this year, the kids are raw and they’re completely honest. Some of the content is touchy. I think that they’re allowing their stories to be heavy and allowing it to make people uncomfortable and that’s something that’s commendable,” said Amorette Lormil, LTABFLA veteran and current bluapple Poetry Network staff assistant.

Prelims

LTABFLA kicked off with a bang when preliminary bouts began on Tuesday, March 28. Across the span of two days, nearly 40 high-schools in the bluapple network competed with individual and group pieces.

Hosting the bouts were ArtServe, the City of Sunrise Civic Center, Delray Beach Arts Garage, Hard Rock Live, Hard Rock Stadium, Magnetic Pompano and Savor Cinema. The incredible venues provided the backdrop the words of these poets deserved.

With a mic and stage, the students went to work, keeping in mind one of the most important mantras of LTABFLA. While panels of judges do score performances, participants are always reminded, “the point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”

When prelims came to a close, 16 teams and 25 individual poets left to prepare for semifinals just two days away.

   

Firecracker and Dynamite Slam

LTABFLA doesn’t only focus on showcasing the work of high school students. The Firecracker and Dynamite Slams, held on Friday, March 31, showcase poetry from students in elementary and middle school. The youngest poet at this bout was only 5 years old, who presented an “Ode to Shopkins.”

   

Hosted at the Dillard School for the Performing Arts, we’ve begun to see Dynamite alum grace the LTABFLA main stage as they enter high school.

Semis

There was no one fooling around on April 1. LTABFLA Semi Finals consisted of four Olympic-style poetry bouts with four schools competing in each. This year, a semi final round for  “indy” poets was also added, as the top 25 scoring poets of the festival had their work evaluated for the chance to move on to the Indy Finals.

Held in the Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University, the theater laughed, cried and embraced in one another’s stories. After a long day worth of performance, Boca Raton, Flanagan, Miami Norland, and Miramar each won their respective bouts and continued to Finals, along with the twelve indy poets listed below.

   

Block Party

The LTABFLA block party was born out of a partnership with Hoffman’s Chocolates and LIME Fresh Mexican Grill. With their help, an entire section of The Fountains in Plantation became a hub for artistry, music, dancing and, of course, poetry.

The family friendly environment on April 2 was open to the public and LTABFLA poets received free gift bags. With musical performances from The Takers and Leavers and Sheena O. Murray, dance performances from Express the Arts, Fuzion City and the Heroes of Hip Hop, a live art battle between Nate Dee, Carlos Solano and Tee Pop, live art courtesy of SURGE in Hoffman’s, various performances from bluapple poets and the LTABFLA Coaches Slam, it’s safe to say there was never a dull moment.

The Coaches Slam, which gives the teachers of LTABFLA teams the opportunity to showcase their writing always provides a powerful bonding experience between the Coach and his or her team. It is incredible to see the excitement on young poets’ faces as their mentors take stage and they get to cheer them on. This year, Veneisha Clarington of Miramar High School took home the title of Coaches Slam winner, as well as a watch from the Jason Taylor Tower of Strength Collection compliments of Invicta.

Town Hall Meeting

On Monday, April 3, the Knight Auditorium at Nova Southeastern University hosted the LTABFLA Town Hall Meeting, an annual event organized by the Jason Taylor Foundation and this year, presented by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). The event presents an intergenerational panel to discuss varying topics each year. This year the topic of discussion was social justice and activism.

Alongside educators, members of law enforcement and youth advocates, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas engaged in meaningful dialogues about racism and other inequality issues, education and empowerment.

   

College Slam

One could argue that poets never stop being poets. That’s one of the reasons why the LTABFLA College Slam is so important. On April 6, Barry University, Broward College, Florida Memorial University, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida all went to bout for the title of LTABFLA College Slam Champions as the slam moved from the individual competition it had been in the past to a face-off of college teams.

Participants, many of whom were bluapple Poetry alum, provided an amazing night of poetry within the Rick Case Arena at the Don Taft University Center in Nova Southeastern University. Ultimately, Barry University, perhaps better known by their team name the Florida Freedom Writers, became the third annual LTABFLA winners of the College Slam.

Ultimate Software Indy Finals

From prelims, to semis and everything in between, bluapple supplies a wide variety of styles and talent for the Indy competition as more than 350 individual poems are performed. On April 7, LTABFLA returned to the Rick Case Arena to watch the top twelve scoring individual poets compete during the Ultimate Software Indy Finals.

With three different pieces presented from each poet, the judges had the difficult job of scoring each performance and ultimately deciding the first, second and third place winners. After a full night of story telling, Ni’Ja “Sweetness” Maxwell of Miami Northwestern Senior High School came out as the Indy Finals champion, with Rachelle Newkirk of Miramar High School and Alexis Grant of Piper High School claiming second and third place respectively.

And while three poets claimed their prizes, all twelve of the amazing young artists wowed the crowed the entire evening. No audience member was more impressed than bluapple namesake, Omari Hardwick, who stepped off the set of his hit TV series Power to support the poets. 

StevenDouglas Team Finals

The last night of Louder Than A Bomb Florida Presented by Nova Southeastern University and UPS went out with a bang. On April 8, the Epstein Center for the Arts at NSU became a hub for raw emotions, story telling and connections between individuals of all ages, which was amplified as LTABFLA media partner, NBC-6, livestreamed the event on its website.

The night was destined to be special after encouraging words from Jason Taylor and Omari Hardwick, and a masterful original poem read by Darius Daughtry, Director of bluapple Poetry Programs. Throughout the evening, the crowd of more than 400 guests was also treated to performances by local musical artist Alexander Star and internationally renowned poet, Sierra Demulder, who also served as one of five celebrity judges for the evening. The judges panel also included Miami Dolphins defensive back, Michael Thomas, Hits 97.3 radio personality, Kimmy Bell, School Board of Broward County Director of Equity and Attainment, David Watkins, and NSU Career Advisor and former Jason Taylor Foundation Director of Operations, Jackie Pires.

The buzz was certainly in the air, but the true stars of the evening, as expected, were the poets. After 13 days of preliminary bouts and semi-finals, four teams were left standing: Boca Raton Community High School, Flanagan High School, Miami Norland Senior High School and Mirarmar High School. Round after round, the students brought intense and moving performances to the stage, bravely representing their teams, their schools and their communities. Nothing was held back.

In another stunningly close bout, Miami Norland, or the Viking Freedom Writers as they like to be known, came out victorious as the third annual Louder Than a Bomb Florida Champions, earning the opportunity to travel to Chicago this July to participate in the Young Chicago Authors’ spectacular “Write to the City” summer camp for poets and writers. The placing of the other finalists was Boca, Miramar and Flanagan.

When all is said and done, Louder Than a Bomb Florida is about so much more than a competition.

“The importance of LTAB lies in the poetry, but also vastly beyond the poetry. It’s in the ability and the necessary time these students have to share their stories, to express those things that are often the ugly part of humanity and society,” said Darius Daughtry.  “We so desperately need youth and the entire community, to speak out about things that are affecting us on an individual and collective level. So that is why LTAB Florida is not only important but is necessary.”

As the mics are packed away and ideas for next year’s competition begin to bloom, we know that the voices of these students, no matter where they place, are sewn together with the truth of their own lives. During a time that seems to thrive on uncertainty, there is a strong need for individuals and communities to understand one another and come together. For centuries, societies have done that through the art of telling stories, which we have the privilege of watching with every Louder than a Bomb Florida, we hope to help these young, powerful poets keep telling those stories.

Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary”- Walter Scott 

Originally posted as two news articles on jasontaylorfoundaiton.com: “#Spotlight Tuesday: Louder Than A Bomb Florida” and “Louder Than A Bomb Florida 2017 Recap”

Jenna Kopec