In her poem “A Letter to Chicago Streets,” 16-year-old Taylor Robinson tells Chicago the violence needs to stop. The Avalon Park resident says her eyes were opened last summer when she was robbed.
Through poetry, she has a voice to tell her stories.
“A lot of people say that one voice can’t make a difference, but I feel like if I can go to different places and speak, I will be able to open someone’s eyes and one day it’s going to stop,” Robinson said.
Rahm Emanuel and a couple hundred other people heard her voice last night at the Louder Than a Bomb individual finals. More than 900 poets from 100 schools participated in the spoken word poetry competition, which started with preliminary rounds in February. Teens can compete as an individual or on a team.
“This is an opportunity for a lot of young people to say something and have it be heard by people for the first time in their lives sometimes,” said Robbie Q. Telfer, education coordinator for Louder Than a Bomb.
“This city in particular, but our culture in general, tends to ask young people to speak when they’re spoken to, they devalue their opinions, and they also see them as a threat,” Telfer said.
But Robinson says at the competition she felt heard.
“I feel like I changed someone’s life,” the teen said. “I feel like there’s someone out there in the audience. I don’t care who it is, I just feel like I made a difference.”
Lamar Jorden, who hosted the competition, graduated from Steinmetz High School in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood in 2007. He found his voice through LTAB.
“You can be from an underfunded or impoverished neighborhood and still have valuable stories that the people at the slam take away from them,” Jorden said.
Since competing he has been actively teaching other artists.
“A voice, an ear, and the knowledge they have a voice is the most important thing you can give a young person,” Jorden said.
Telfer stresses the importance of youth in Chicago being heard.
“This is one of the few places that I know of in the city where young people can say that they matter, and that their ideas matter and someone will listen to them,” Telfer said.
He also says LTAB is real. Some of the poems at the competition Wednesday night were about body image, abandonment by parents, growing up, religion, and the loss of friends and parents.
“In Chicago the dominant narrative is one that perpetuates a very racist, classist lifestyle and we have the opportunity to tell a different story, a more honest story about the most segregated city in the country.”
Jorden said that desegregating the city and letting youth know that they have a voice are two main components in changing the world and Chicago.
Many people say this competition does both.
Jorden said he’d never been to South Loop before going to the LTAB preliminaries. He just stayed on the West Side. Now most of his friends are people he met through the slam and they’re from all over the city.
Robinson came in fifth place in the competition Wednesday night, but as they say at Young Chicago Authors: “The point is not the points. The point is the poetry.”
“I didn’t come out here to win today,” Robinson said. “I came out here to make a difference, be heard and stand up for what I believe in.”
Robinson, who is in the JROTC program at Phoenix Military Academy in West Town, aspires to go to Howard University, attend law school and become a police officer.
She wants to be a police officer because she wants to make a difference in someone’s life.
“There’s so much violence. Some one needs to put a stop to it.”