Youth Speaks is an organization that works to raise the voices of young people in the form of spoken word on matters of importance to them. They put on different performances from Under 21 Open Mics to Brave New Voices. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Youth Speaks puts on a show on his birthday. This year was the twentieth anniversary of the show. It was inspired by Dr. King’s “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” speech. I had the privilege of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy by performing at the show. While I was beyond honored to be in it, I was terrified at the idea of performing in front of hundreds more people than I had in my entire life. But standing backstage listening to my fellow performers was powerful. After the show I was left feeling empowered, motivated, and awestruck by my peers talent with words. Especially with the current political climate, the world feels terrifying and unpredictable. As those who will one day inherit the world, it is important that we let our opinions be known, especially when we’re given so little voice in the outcome of political decisions.
Backstage I begun to panic. I have performed countless times, but I will never get over the stage fright that comes with putting on shows. But as soon as I stepped up to the microphone and the stage lights hit me, my instincts took over. I had poured my soul into writing this piece and spent hours at rehearsals making sure I portrayed it in the most effective way to get my message across. I forgot about all the people staring at me, and the words came naturally. I performed far better than I had expected. After exiting the stage, relief and joy that I didn’t mess up flooded my senses. The support I received from people a month ago I hadn’t known was overwhelming. And to receive that support from people my age whose work I admired and whose words will stick with me, is something I will always remember.
There has always been a lot of hate in this world. Recently people have been demonstrating that hate more. It’s terrifying, and as a person who will one day inherit this earth, it’s not what I want it to be like. That’s part of why this show was so important for people to hear. I will not sit idly by as hate consumes the world around me. I will not remain silent as people I know and love are jeered at and threatened for their gender, who they love, their skin color, or their religion. I was unjustly born with privilege due to my skin tone. Despite being part black, I will never truly understand what my father or black peers have gone through. Because of how people perceive me I will never be followed in stores by security, I will never be denied a job because of my skin. My experiences of getting treated differently after telling someone of my heritage cannot compare to the violence visibly people of color experience. But if I didn’t use my privilege to speak about racism and to raise the voices of people of color, I would be perpetuating it.
After the show I was met with praise from both my friends and strangers. Even blocks away from the venue the show was held at people stopped me to tell me how much they enjoyed my piece. Five days later at the women’s march someone would stop me and tell me they loved my poem. Knowing that my words touched and impacted so many people was an amazing feeling. It made all my nervousness and hard work worth it.
I will definitely do my best to continue working with Youth Speaks. Performing at Bring The Noise was an amazing experience and I will keep going to open mics and poetry slams. It’s an incredible and special thing to find a way to express yourself, so I’m lucky to have found how much I enjoy writing spoken word. After all, it combines two of my favorite things; performing and writing. But regardless of how many more times I’ll perform spoken word pieces, the fight for equality across race, gender, religion, and sexuality is far from over. I will continue to use my voice to fight to make the world a place I am happy to live in.
Solange Baker, class of 2019