By Nick Dimas, Anna Mason, Tanya Munoz and Marlena Wadley
photos via YCA
“I’ve come to LTAB every year for the past 4 years and this year was just amazing those kids kicked ass up there. It’s amazing to see what the next couple of years and now what Chicago has to push out” says rapper Taylor Bennett right after his performance on the finals stage.
On March 18th, the Auditorium Theater was emerged in tears, claps, smiles, and standing ovations. Kuumba Lynx, Rebirth, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Percy L. Julian all revealed what activism looks like. From poems talking about racism within CPS, standardized test, gentrification, black and LGBTQ rights, to awareness of sexual assault and reclaiming the body. This year, every team left a small piece of themselves and the true meaning of using your words for change.
It’s not about the points, it’s about the poetry. Pikazzo from Julian performed a poem about hiding himself from the world. “I just wanted to get my message out to let them know event though this is my last year I’m performing doesn’t mean I’m coming to do this for my points, I’m doing this to really get my story out.”
Throughout the night everyone stayed connected and clung onto every word each poet said. The magical part about LTAB is that the youth gets to speak, the youth gets to be angry and express it, the world listens, problems are not belittled, no one is condescending, and voices get to be loud. This night was full of all kind of stories, stories that you could identify with, or stories that needed to be heard and listened to.
A night intertwined with storytelling, love, and support. Each team demonstrated the perfect example of sportsmanship. After leaving the stage, poets are surrounded by peers, hugging them, giving them high fives, showing them they are not alone. “Everybody I came across was telling me I inspired them one way or another with that piece and I felt like I could inspire all 4,000. My first two years I was writing for competition, junior year we made it to semifinals, this year we made it to finals with my team. I was team captain I took on the responsibility of leadership, and listening to other people’s stories and being there for other people. And letting people listen to my voice instead of worrying about what the judges are going to hear” Pikazzo recalls.
Patricia Frazier, poet from Brooks talks about the importance of her piece. “For one I think it is a story that is important to LTAB and it was also a story that was important for black girls because I don’t think that it is a coincidence that at the same time all these neighborhoods are being gentrified, all these black girls are going missing. Also what I hate a lot about LTAB is that people who aren’t from these neighborhoods try to use these neighborhoods as a namesake as for why Chicago is so messed up and they don’t live here. So I initially wrote it as a comeback to those people but what it became was an ode to black girls standing up for themselves and putting a foot down”
A poem bringing awareness to the gentrification of the southside left the crowd tall on their feet, clapping loudly as she walked off the staged greeted by team members. While exposing the pushing out of black residents, she exposes students who use the violence in englewood to gain sympathy and points in their poems. Using her poem to talk about the way Chicago neighborhoods are plagued as a foreign warzone country by people who have never stepped foot in these neighborhoods let alone experienced the content in their poems.
The night was a constant reminder as to why words are important, why words are so crucial, how words can move people. Movement was a highlight of the night, how words have the power to strike something in us, how they have the power to make us move, do something. Kuumba Lynx’s’ group piece about movement was a clapback to people who have criticized the team’s choreography in past LTAB’s. Kuumba Lynx has been known to bring fresh, creative, and iconic choreography for their group piece every year, but many people who do not understand the craft have had negative things to say about it. In the this year’s piece, the team called them out and said, “Don’t you know you can’t be a poet without movement? Don’t you know the best poems are the ones that move the crowd…A poem does not exist at a stand still.” This is truth. Poetry is a form of activism, it is a form of resistance, and storytelling. Poetry helps us exist, and when we move, we are existing and fighting against injustice. There is an interconnection between people who go out to the streets to protest, water protectors fighting the the Dakota Access pipeline, and poets, we are constantly moving, resisting, and wanting change. Our power is the power to move. Audience members put their first up in the air as Kuumba Lynx shouted, “This body ain’t going nowhere!”
Gwendolyn Brooks’s piece was heavy and pivotal, piece called “To the people who mistake black male supremacy for black liberation.” In their poem they two boys satirically stated statements that are commonly said by men to black women, “Us kings need to save our queens,” The two young women in the group piece strongly rebutted them with facts on how black women have been on the frontline fighting for black men, and still are disrespected, abused, and not validated. This was a callout to toxic hypermasculinity and it was a also recognition to black folk who have been internalized to denounce the existene of our trans sisters, black women, black queer and nonbinary folk.
Many poems were dedicated, for, and to the marginalized, to the oppressed, to those who are no longer here to tell their stories. A poet Named Arielle, grasped the hearts of the people with her poem about being “the black lesbian.” Her poem shook the entire auditorium when she listed a handful of shows that have killed of black, queer women off. She preached that she can never see herself represented in shows, and when she does, they are always killed. Right after her was another poet from Kuumba Lynx, no stranger to the LTAB stage, Jessica. She stunned the crowd, left every jaw on the floor, with her poem about her selective enrollment school. The title itself, “When Your teacher Tells You to Hurry Back from the Bathroom Before They Lynch You,” provoked an immediate reaction from the crowd. Lines in her poem such as “They snapchatted his face with a monkey, turned the cafeteria into a jim crow jungle” and “I will offer my body as a schoolhouse for the ones CPS has forgotten.”
Around me people were falling into their seats, had their hands on their forehead, snapped, let out “oh my god’s” and hums of agreement. LTAB will always be needed. People will always have stories to tell, people will always need to heal, and words have the power to do that, they have the power to heal and bring comfort.
The uprising at these injustices will come, for the beginning of change is recognized from the voices of the people. Louder Than A Bomb was created in order for Chicago youth to think bigger than themselves, for the point was always the poetry and not the score. This is the future that is brighter, envisioned by the brightest and most talented young poets.