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Duos Redefine Stereotypes with Spoken Poetry

English and Speech teacher Ms. Lisa Vitali assigned her speech students to write a poem with a partner.

“At a county staff development day, a River Hill teacher presented an idea to write shared poems for literary characters. After, she shared a video of Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay who perform regularly around the nation,” said Ms. Vitali.

Kaye and Kay met their freshman year at Brown University at an orientation talent show where they each performed separate spoken word poetry. After learning that they had so much in common and that they had almost met once before even though they lived on opposite sides of the countries, they started to write poetry together.

Their first spoken word poetry was named, “An Origin Story,” where they explained who they were and where they came from. It gave the audience a sense of how they met and how their lives are so similar. Then came another poem called, “When Love Arises,” where they talked about love and all they know about it.

Kaye and Kay perform their poems by alternating speaking roles. At times, to add emphasis, they speak together. The two poets are a part of Project VOICE, where they use spoken word poetry to “educate, entertain and inspire” others.

After watching the video of the two, Ms. Vitali had the idea to do this with her students. Instead of assigning the project with literary characters, she wanted to make it a way for students to introduce themselves and their partners. Since she used it with her speech class, they were free to do anything that they believed was appropriate. After drawing names out of a hat, everyone got their partners.

Dominique Johnson and Kimberly Lopez were paired together, and both realized that they had something interesting in common.

“A lot of people have stereotypes about us without knowing our backgrounds. Also, as females, we suffer from these stereotypes,” said Lopez.

In their poem, they started off by talking about how people stereotype them, then go on to the labels they have been given because of their race and ethnicity.

“We chose the connection because of what is currently going on in the news, and we can both relate to coming from two different cultures,” said Johnson.

They later go and shoot down the previous statements about their labels, describing themselves as “A Black Woman” and “A Mexican Woman.” They give examples of women of their races and say, “If these stereotypes are true, how then do we explain these people’s success?”

They finish the poem by saying, “My race does not define me, but I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I’m proud of my homeland.”

For their last comments, they introduce themselves by name and not by how people see them.

This activity was a way for students to get to know themselves and their peers. It gave them an opportunity to voice the problems that they face in their daily lives because of who they are.

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