For five years, The Diatribe, a local non-profit organization specializing in teaching poetry and spoken word, has been empowering the voices of Grand Rapids’ youth by giving young minds a platform to share their stories and express their true selves.
On Saturday, Oct. 6, The Diatribe will create a stage for both local and nationally recognized poets with The Grand Showcase 2018 at Fountain Street Church.
Ever since The Diatribe first started speaking at schools around the Grand Rapids area, these teaching artists have been impacting students and faculty by sharing a part of themselves with their words. Because of high demand, The Diatribe, which consists of G Foster II ‘AutoPilot,’ Marcel ‘Fable’ Price and Rachel Gleason, developed six-12 week spoken word programs and workshops to foster students’ interest in poetry.
Over the course of the program, students are shown performances of well-known spoken word artists, taught poetic techniques and given writing prompts based on lessons covering social justice issues. After the students have written their own body of work, The Diatribe works with the students to edit and polish their poems until they find a piece they want to perform.
Once the students are educated on “performance dynamics, intonation, expression, eye contact and intentional movement,” the weeks of lessons culminate in a showcase to “show off what they learned,” said Gleason, The Diatribe’s director of education.
Not only are these students improving their writing techniques, they are also learning important life skills during these showcases, such as public speaking, social awareness and positive self-expression.
After realizing how much writing has helped each member of The Diatribe cope with their own stressors, trauma and abuse, Gleason explained, “there is something especially powerful about spoken word” that should be taught to the young minds today. “It’s not just writing it out. You get to speak about things that had power over you at one point. Speaking empowers yourself over some of the things that were hard for you growing up.”
Because The Diatribe discusses issues that might be troubling students nowadays, it opens the floor for individuals to speak about their own stressors and notice that other students are going through similar experiences. As a result, many schools have reported that after The Diatribe works with its students, there is a noticeable change of a “more unified atmosphere and much kinder environment,” according to Gleason.
“When we all open up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we realize that a lot of us are going through the same things. Speaking about it and having someone else say, ‘me too’ can be really powerful and that’s where that unity comes in. Even though all our stories are unique and different, there’s always this common ground that can be found, and in speaking about it, we can rally together and have a sense of community and support,” said Gleason.
Regina Cassese, a Diatribe student, emphasized that sharing your vulnerability with others can let you free yourself in unexpected ways. “There are moments when you have something you feel so strongly inside of you, yet you can’t release it. Then this amazing group of artists comes in and they teach you how to be vulnerable again,” said Cassese.
Though part of what The Diatribe does is help students improve their written and communication skills, Gleason hopes that they are also teaching young people to be aware of and speak on the current issues that are happening around them in their cities, communities and neighborhoods. Because if The Diatribe can get the youth comfortable and interested in speaking out on societal issues, “they can be empowered to share their voice and see that their voice can affect change,” said Gleason.
One student whose voice was impacted by The Diatribe was Amara Grajewski. After working with students from all over Grand Rapids during the school year, The Diatribe invited 30 promising students, including Grajewski and Cassese, back this summer for a 12-week workshop and performance during its Summer Poetry Pop-Up event. Grajewski, who will also be featuring her work alongside Cassese at The Grand Showcase 2018, said it was The Diatribe that showed her that her voice is a gift that should be used.
“The most important lesson The Diatribe has taught me is that when you have the courage to speak, people will listen. Your voice is much more powerful than you could ever imagine, and it will touch people in ways you wouldn’t have guessed. Our right to speak freely is a gift we take for granted. The Diatribe helped me realize how special that gift is.”
Wanting to highlight and empower a diverse set of voices in front of the community, The Diatribe hosts The Grand Showcase 2018 on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at Fountain Street Church. This fundraiser and poetry event will include local vendors, a documentary, music by SuperDre and performances by Diatribe students, local spoken word artists and featured poets, including Andrea Gibson, Siaara Freeman and T. Miller.
Tickets for floor and balcony seats as well as VIP Meet and Greet tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite or at the door at Fountain Street Church. Visit The Diatribe’s website for more information on its organization and The Grand Showcase 2018.
*Photos courtesy of The Diatribe