Teen Summit Showcases Power of the Spoken Word

25084967530_927dfd9443_kFive years ago one student showed up for their first workshop, teachers Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang said. The three of them shared and considered the work of a then-ascending young spoken word poet. A lot’s happened since.

And with that they turned the show over to Joshua Bennett, the poet who’s been with them from that humble beginning. The show was Saturday’s public portion of Teen Summit III. The venue was the black box theater at Drake University’s Harmon Fine Arts Center. And the attendance – well, the attendance overflowed, in terms of both number and response.

Teen Summit III, brought to you by the poets of Movement 515/RunDSM and the students of the burgeoning Urban Leadership program at Central Campus, was a rousing success in the emerging tradition of its two forerunner events. Friday’s arts workshops and town hall discussions at the Des Moines Social Club and Saturday’s performance showcase at Drake combined to raise a lot of consciousness about the local impact of national issues around race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and social justice (or the lack thereof).

It’s understandable that this event is billed as a summit. It does represent the very top of a mountain of sorts and in that sense it keeps moving higher. And it is a meeting of powerful leaders, too. But it is also a jamboree, “a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one.”

Friday’s sessions included the summit discussions when hundreds of teens from around the district closed ranks and talked to one another about the need for social and political changes and the most effective ways to make them happen.

The jamboree was Saturday. Poet after poet, 17 of them in all, took the stage in an outpouring of angst that ricocheted back to them in the form of hopeful support and reaffirmation from an audience that enthused while the poets profused.

The culmination was when the emcee, a hero to the students he’d been introducing all afternoon, kept the mic to himself.

Bennett has performed at the White House. He is internationally renowned. Penn and Princeton educated, he now teaches at Columbia University in New York City. He performed five of his own pieces, capping but by no means stealing the show.

Rollins and Lang were in the wings, recalling the five year-old origins of M515 in a classroom after school at Harding. They were as intimate as childbirth. Bennett was there in spirit that day and now here he was in the flesh, along with the rest of a family that’s grown more than a hundredfold. Urban Leadership/RunDSM/M515; it’s a movement indeed.

DMPS-TV Video of Teen Summit III

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