More than a dozen Broward teens recently took to the stage in a spoken word smackdown during the second annual Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network District-Wide Slam.
After three rounds of competition, Piper High School’s Zoharian Williams walked off with $500 as the winner at Nova Southeastern University’s Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center in Davie. His Sunrise school also received a check as a result of his victory.
“A lot of people related to what I was saying, though I don’t write to relate to people, but write to express my feelings,” he said. “In the process, the people loved it. It’s beautiful.”
He spent many hours outside of school preparing for the slam.
“I was that crazy guy at bus stops doing poems and practicing with strangers around,” he said. “I would go to this bridge above our freeway. I would go there and yell out poetry above the cars so that on stage there would be no distractions. People wouldn’t distract me if cars didn’t.”
Douglas Goodridge from Dillard High and Miramar High’s Marnino Toussaint took second and third, respectively, McArthur High’s Marissa Houston was crowned the Pandora Poet of Power.
The event was based on scores given by a panel of judges that included NSU professor Christine Jackson, WSVN meteorologist Vivian Gonzalez, former Miami Dolphins receiver O.J. McDuffie and MMA fighter and WWE “Tough Enough” winner Daniel Puder.
Hardwick, who co-hosted the festivities, met Tupac Shakur the first time he attended a poetry slam at the University of Georgia.
“Poetry is almost like my foundation for everything,” he said. “I almost feel I am a better actor and writer because of it.”
The poetry network is a program of the Jason Taylor Foundation.
“It’s cliche, but the streets raise a lot of these kids,” Hardwick said. “It’s kind of nice to put a middleman between the streets and the missing parents or father figures or other voids [in their lives].”
Also during the event, the Heroes of Hip Hop dance crew and R&B star George Tandy Jr. performed, and artist Surge painted live on stage.
Seth Levit, executive director of the Jason Taylor Foundation, said the poetry network has grown from 25 schools to 40 in the past year.
“We are trying to develop a culture and a feeding pattern,” he said. “… All of a sudden, that child is the center of that classroom space where now their stories are important. They aren’t just being talked to, but have the opportunity to share their stories. … The schools are responding very positively to it.”
For more information, visit Jasontaylorfoundation.org.
Scott Fishman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.