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‘Where I’m From’ poems highlight TF South Black History Month Poetry Slam

LANSING, Ill. (February 23, 2024) – Over 20 TF South students shared a variety of poems at the second annual Black History Month Poetry Slam in the grand lobby at TF South Thursday night.

The students — who are members of the Vocal Justice program at South — shared some poems that they wrote themselves and also read classic poems appropriate for Black History Month. Starting at 6 p.m., the event drew a crowd of nearly 60 people, including student performers.

Marcia James is a counselor at TFS, a Vocal Justice Fellow, and the staff leader of the program at South.

“Vocal Justice is a leadership program designed for youth to recognize the power of their authentic voices, and use them to advocate for change. The goal is for them to become socially-conscious leaders,” she said before the program began on Thursday.

Marcia James is a TF South counselor and the leader of the Vocal Justice program. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Many students shared poems they’d written as part of their participation in the Vocal Justice program, focusing on the theme “Where I’m from,” a format inspired by poet George Ella Lyon.

poetry
Jessica Ochiabutor is a sophomore at TF South. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

The following is an excerpt from TFS sophomore Jessica Ochiabutor:

I’m from that Nigerian household.
 
I’m from “Cry and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
 
From the friends asking, “Is your mom foreign? Why does she sound Chinese?”
 
From the looks during parent teacher conferences of your teachers trying to understand your mom.
 
I’m from eating rice and stew for dinner and not liking it.
 
From bringing plantain chips to the school and your friends looking at you funny, like you’re disgusting.
 
I’m from relatives asking “What’s your name?” and saying, “No, your real name?”
 

Students who didn’t perform “Where I’m from” poems read other well-known poems such as Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Langston Hughes’ “Harlem,” and Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.”

Ariana Pryor read a poem she wrote in 8th grade about how she didn’t like poetry. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
Attendees were served cupcakes and drinks at the Black History Month Poetry Slam at TF South. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Vocal Justice at TF South

“The Vocal Justice program meets every week. We talk about current events, we talk about our mental [health]. We talk about how we’re feeling that day.” Ochiabutor said. “I feel like for a lot of people it’s a safe space because [Ms. James] is like a mother to us.”

The sophomore said the group is more of a community group than a performance group, and they’ve developed a strong trust with each other.

“If I’m having a bad day, I can come to any one of the people in the group, and I can trust them. It’s a comfort to me,” she said.

Sarah Perry reads her “Where I’m from” poem on Thursday night. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
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A pair of proud parents take video of their student storyteller. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

James, who helped start the Vocal Justice program last year, said the program focuses on four areas: self-awareness, social awareness, storytelling, and social change.

“There is a lot of social-emotional learning that goes on, because you have to learn about yourself — and you have to to learn about others — so they deep dive into self-awareness. That’s where the ‘Where I’m from’ poems come from,” she said. “I’m just so proud of them, to be able to lean into their vulnerability and to share their stories so that they can overcome.”

Some of the students in Vocal Justice gathered for a group photo after the poetry slam event. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

To learn more about Vocal Justice, visit vocaljustice.org. TF South is located at 18500 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.

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Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.

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