Dew More Baltimore fosters empowerment through art & poetry - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Dew More Baltimore fosters empowerment through art & poetry

If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, then surely the spoken word cuts to the core.

This is a lesson area students are eagerly embracing, thanks to Dew More Baltimore.

Dew More Baltimore is a nonprofit community-based organization dedicated to using poetry, art and creative writing as a catalyst for change and community activism. Dew More seeks to foster civic engagement with historically marginalized people, through innovative art-focused programming and community organizing, in partnership with community organizations, schools, and governmental agencies.

Slangston Hughes is the Artistic Director for Dew More Baltimore. Hughes is also one of the slam coaches for the Baltimore City Youth Poetry Team, who has competed nationally in Brave New Voices 3 years in a row. A dynamic teaching artist and highly regarded poet, Hughes has seen firsthand the power of poetry in the lives of area students.

Poet Slangston Hughes (courtesy)

Poet Slangston Hughes (courtesy)

“Dew More started about 3 years ago”, said Hughes. “It’s Dew More, because we try to do more with poetry!

“The nice thing about the program is a number of the youth have gone through it and returned to be teaching artists in the program. Dew More grew out of an existing organization, called the Baltimore City Youth Poetry Team. We have social justice clubs in high schools and middle schools, community centers and youth prisons. The age range for the various clubs is 13 -19. One such social justice poetry club is called Louder Than a Bomb. There is the National Youth Poetry Team, which enables young poets to go on tour and compete; as well as Brave New Voices which is the annual National Youth Poetry Slam. This year it’s going to be in D.C. July 12 – 16.”

Given the social justice aspect of the various poetry clubs, we asked Hughes if last April’s civil unrest served as a spark to send the student poets into action?

“Absolutely it did, and that’s exactly what happened. When the uprising took place, a lot of our board members were called to make an official statement for the press. We were like, ‘Ummm… No’, because we noticed a lot of entities using the unrest to boost themselves. Our answer was to send the youth out to respond to what was happening around the city, by performing at rallies and protest marches. They were already writing about these topics, so they went out and did what this organization was meant to do and that is to amplify youth voice. Many ended up doing interviews for both television and print news publications, so they were the voice for the organization and played a major role as performing artists.”

And a year later?

“We’re pretty much doing the same thing we’ve always done and that’s being a catalyst for change in our community. What happened pre-uprising, during the uprising, and post-uprising – for us it was just continuing to do what we’ve always done. It’s just that, for a while, the whole world was paying attention. One of the interesting things which happened after the uprising was we had applied for grants to conduct a six week summer poetry writers institute. We had applied for the grant before the uprising and they said, ‘NO’, but after the uprising, they came back to us and said, ‘Please take this money.’ (Laughing) It was like, you light some stuff on fire and suddenly they say, ‘Maybe we should give some money to these youths so they can do something other than scare the s*** out of us white people.’ Anyway, it was kind of interesting.

Martin Luther King Jr. (Phil Stanziola, Library of Congress)

Martin Luther King Jr. (Phil Stanziola, Library of Congress)

“Just to speak for a moment to that situation, in all of the police brutality cases which have happened around the country, the only time I saw immediate legal action taken was here in Baltimore. In other communities, there were incidences which were covered by the news, but local authorities didn’t take any action.

“Here in Baltimore, we had an incident (the death of Freddie Gray), followed by protests and then a physical response, and almost immediately indictments were handed down. That was unparalleled. Not to condone the violence, but in the words of Martin Luther King, riots are the language of the unheard, and sometimes the unheard get heard in very dramatic fashion.”

* * * * *

This weekend, Dew More – in partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) will host its annual state-wide poetry festival. While the public exhibition takes place on Saturday, Kenneth Morrison – Executive Director of Dew More Baltimore – told the Baltimore Post-Examiner the students will first gather at MICA on Friday to workshop their performances and gain a better understanding of what the event is really all about.

“We want the students to understand that, while the competition is nice, it’s really tertiary to the social aspect of what they’re doing. We want to de-emphasize the competitive part help them see that this event is less about winning and more about creating a platform for their voice.”

* * * * *

Mohamed Tall is in his third year as captain of the Baltimore City Poetry team. Tall is currently enrolled at CCBC (Catonsville) but said he will be transferring to Morgan State University this fall.

Mohamed Tall (courtesy)

Mohamed Tall (courtesy)

Tall told the Baltimore Post-Examiner he got started in the program while attending Woodlawn High School.

“It was there I met my mentor, Jacob Mayberry. He performed a poem for my class, and I remembered I used to do poetry, so the next week, we had a drill which was to do a poem or tell a story; something like that. I found one of my old poems and recited it for my class. Everybody loved it, so afterwards me and Jacob linked up. I performed it for him and he said, ‘Congratulations. You’re on the Baltimore City Team.’

“Since joining the team, I’ve performed at the Baltimore Convention Center; in front of over 2000 people at the annual Islamic Circle of North America; at the Johns Hopkins Health Symposium. I’ve also performed at the University of Maryland at College Park. There, we opened up for the U.S. Poet Laureate. We even went on a nationwide tour which included Atalanta, New Orleans, Chapel Hill, NC and several other places.”

We asked Tall if any of his poetry experiences stuck out in his mind?

“One which really sticks out happened last year at LTAB (Louder Than a Bomb). I had a middle school teacher come up to me and say that some of her students saw one of my performances and that inspired them to create an anti-injustice coalition at their school. They’re using that platform to help move legislation in Annapolis. Hearing that was certainly a life changing experience.”

* * * * *

This coming Saturday April 16, Dew More will be holding its annual state-wide poetry festival on the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The event, which runs from 12 – 8 PM, will be held in the Gateway Building at 1601 Mt. Royal Avenue. Area middle and high school students will be competing with performance art; there will be workshops, and the release of a youth poetry book, called Baltimore Art Rising. Also, festival goers are encouraged to look for an exhibit where MICA students will turn some of the poetry into visual art. You can find out more about Dew More by going to Dew More Baltimore.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at the Washington Herald, and Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, SmartCEO, Magic Octopus Magazine, Destination Maryland, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.

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