Simbaa Gordon, 2016 YoungArts Winner in Writing/Spoken Word, performing at National YoungArts Week.
“If it wasn’t for poetry I’d be in the cemetery.” A profound statement made by a young poet whose life in the last 6 months has simply not been the same, nor has mine. My first memories of this storyteller are his smile and his amazing poetic family from Miami Norland High School. Led by lyrical conductor Precious Symonette (Miami Dade Teacher of the Year 2015-2016)—a language arts teacher who has made it a point to not only positively impact her students’ lives, but enrich her own by doing so—YoungArts Writing (Spoken Word) finalist William “Simbaa” Gordon and the entire Vikings Freedom Writers Crew have not only touched my spirit, but have reignited my hunger to write, to share, to bleed poetry and to share their Spoken Word Save Lives sentiment.
I have been blessed to earn many TV and film credits as an actress. Hollywood was at my doorstep, literally and figuratively, on September 11, 2001 when a phone call from my best friend Tanya drastically changed the course of our lives. I felt like my spirit was about to jump out of my body when I learned that Tanya’s firefighter fiancé, Sergio Gabriel Villanueva, was down at the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The burning pain in my heart felt as if I was a lobster being boiled in hot water. Knowing I couldn’t jump out, or do anything for that matter that could give me any relief. During the year-long journey of yearning to heal while learning to accept our family’s loss, I turned to writing poetry and launched a new career of performing my spoken word with vigor and pain at open mics across the country.
Fast forward 15 years and, every time I hear any poet—and especially teens—I am always brought back to pen and paper. When you see teenagers stay after school to hang out with their English teacher, stay even later to meet some crazy curly haired lady who talks nonstop about YoungArts (“What the heck is YoungArts?”) or when you see them voluntarily spend their weekends at writing workshops and poetry conferences, one can’t help but be reminded of how Spoken Word Save Lives. Spoken word saved mine.
Many of us remember or may still be going through growing pains and teen angst—even those in our 30s and 40s—so we know how imperative it is to have some sort of outlet. If you happen to be good at it, excel at it, make a career of it and actually make money from it, well that is just CAKE!
I’m so grateful that South Florida has several spoken word outlets, especially for our community’s talented teens. There are several weekly, bi-weekly and monthly open mics and annual Slams (competitions) such as Tigertail Youth Projects’ WordSpeak and SpeakOut, Piano Slam, PATH, Poetry Out Loud, Louder Than A Bomb, O, Miami and YoungArts. Eventually, many of these teens come back as coaches, team leaders, and scholars to teach younger poets and older poets alike.
I am a firm believer that one is never too old to grow and learn new techniques, tricks and tales. That is why I am so excited to not only play a huge role in informing many of South Florida’s young poets about YoungArts and to, in turn, be taught and inspired by them.
Even when I think they are being disrespectful by not paying attention or doodling on a paper as I speak, it is usually in those moments when I am checked, I am schooled, being made a fool because they quickly remind me my voice is an artistic tool.
When I met with Simbaa and the Viking Freedom Writers for the first time, he sat very quietly, dissecting my every word. He then suddenly asked “Is there any censorship or is cursing frowned upon by YoungArts panelists?” Knowing there is no censorship, I was still compelled to share with him as an artist that if one chooses to use curse words in their work it should be mindful and purposeful cursing that is important to the piece. Otherwise it may be looked upon as the writer being lazy. I continued to share samples and give inserts of a few of my pieces which made them squirm and literally laugh out loud. With a smirk at the end of the presentation, Simbaa challenged me to a one-on-one slam. “Nah—I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your peeps,” I politely declined. “I’ll slam you if you become one of the first ever YoungArts Spoken Word finalists.” “Deal!” he replied. During the 2016 YoungArts Week, he quickly reminded me of our deal. “Nah, I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your fellow finalists,” I said. Truth is, I know he would win.
My second big schooling came just a few days ago during a presentation at Miami Beach Senior High School in Ms. Nicolella’s Creative Writing class. I was challenged, I counter challenged and was schooled! With a time frame of 15 minutes or less, highlights of my presentation and my taglines were used as yarn to interlock and crochet a Knight’s amour, continuing to solidify the importance of freedom of expression, creativity, and poetry because Spoken Word saves, changes, and—like salt and pepper—seasons our lives.
YoungArts is the first start to performance. Keep you from your life feeling dormant, if you want a career longer then dreads of Richard Sherman. I’m sillier than peewee Herman, sturdier than a German. YoungArts.org, better go tell my mom because the life of poetry I love, YoungArts is the alarm. I love my verses, didn’t have time to rehearse this, guided by my curses, dragged down by my hearses. Races against the forces, pace myself, YoungArts is important, Justin Chandler performing, this creative mind is not haunted. National competition puts others out by submission, I know a dude name Bobby he’s not a part of new edition. I know a Simbaa Gordon I think he comes from Norland, maybe the greatest like Jordan. YoungArts is the tunnel, funnel your tumbles and face your fears. Let’s go to YoungArts and begin a career.
Justin Chandler, Miami Beach Senior High School, 4-25-16
Like a proud camp counselor who has watched her poet campers blossom these past months, I am literally counting the minutes until I have the honor to host YoungArts’ Pairings at Ted’s: A Night of Poetry on April 29 and 30. As a part of O, Miami festival’s closing events, I know this for sure: it’ll be a night to be not just remembered but LIVED.
Featuring Spoken Word Artists: YoungArts winners Ashley Gong (2016, Writing), Antwon Funches (2016, Writing), Simbaa Gordon (2016, Writing) and Christell Roach (2015, Writing), with special guests from Piano Slam.
Louder Than a Bomb Florida - NBC6 Special Presentation
A half-hour special that chronicles the 2016 spoken word poetry festival organized by the Jason Taylor Foundation & Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network that features Simbaa and his teacher (17:56) https://youtu.be/W9IGEW_HjWU