The UrbArts organization’s youth poetry slam team won their second championship when they competed during the 23rd Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival last week. Like many festivals, Brave New Voices was scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. until the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their plans.
This year’s virtual festival was held July 20-25. It is the second time St. Louis has taken first place in the international poetry competition. In celebration of their win, UrbArts held a weeklong virtual celebration for the winning poets beginning Monday, July 27 through July 31 by posting a recorded poem from each member on the organization’s YouTube channel. Additionally, a Facebook recording of the youth team reading poems will be made available on its page.
The team was led by two members of the 2019 championship team Sarah Abbas, 2020 St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate and Marquette High School senior, and recent Parkway North graduate Kaylyn McKoy.
“So much of writing is about the process and this win affirms our process of finding the youth poets who are ready to grow and share their truth,” UrbArts Founder and Executive Director and poetry slam team coach M.K. Stallings said when they captured their first title last year.
The 23rd Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, powered by Youth Speaks, is the only festival of its kind. In normal years, over 500 young poets, their mentors, and the nation’s leading artists and cultural workers convene in a different U.S. city for four to five days of arts education, artistic expression, and civic engagement. The festival has taken place for 23 years. Commonly referred to as BNV, Brave New Voices hosted 12 teams from throughout the country in its first virtual version of its festival.
This year, teams from Chicago, Nashville, Washington D.C., Seattle, Dallas, Indianapolis, Tampa, and Abuja in Nigeria were among the cities who competed in the virtual festival. “Hamilton” star and notable Youth Speaks alumnus Daveed Diggs was a special guest during BNV final. BNV received national attention in 2008 when HBO produced a series that aired on the cable network. During the Grand Slam Finals, the St. Louis team faced off against teams from Los Angeles, Miami Gardens and Fayetteville. In a change from last year’s close finish, St. Louis won by 2.7 points, which is considered a difficult lead to surmount due to the Olympic-style scoring.
The 2020 champion St. Louis team is comprised of teen poets: Sarah Abbas of Marquette High School; a recent graduate from Parkway North High School Kaylyn McKoy; Hazelwood West students Grace Ruo and Jacoby Collins; Parkway North senior Chris Lau; and home school student Antigone Chambers-Reed.
To make the St. Louis team, all youth had to compete and participate in the St. Louis Youth Poetry Movement, an UrbArts program that include the St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate and VerbQuake Youth Poetry Festival. Funding support for the program came from the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Council and Enterprise Holdings. In addition to Stallings’ service as lead coach, and Bisa Adero and Zack Lesmeister, former St. Louis Youth Poets Laureates were assistant coaches with Sahara Sista S.O.L.S. as associate lead-coach. Sarah Abbas was the team captain.
Founded in August 2001 as Urban Artists Alliance for Child Development, UrbArts is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create platforms for youth and community development. UrbArts operates annual, local poetry slams for adults and teen spoken word artists entitled UrbSlam Saint Louis and VerbQuake Youth Poetry Slam, respectively. Since 2012, VerbQuake has partnered with high schools throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. In 2015, UrbArts sponsored its first team of VerbQuake champions to represent St. Louis at the Brave New Voices International Festival.