Breaking Down Barriers with Street-Smart Poetry

  • Slamming urban problems with poetry Louder Than A Bomb brings together thousands of young writers in Chicago each year. Organizers are working to expand the program nationwide. Image Credit: Chicago Young Authors

  • Slamming urban problems with poetry Louder Than A Bomb brings together thousands of young writers in Chicago each year. Organizers are working to expand the program nationwide. Image Credit: Chicago Young Authors

  • Slamming urban problems with poetry Louder Than A Bomb brings together thousands of young writers in Chicago each year. Organizers are working to expand the program nationwide. Image Credit: Chicago Young Authors

  • Slamming urban problems with poetry Louder Than A Bomb brings together thousands of young writers in Chicago each year. Organizers are working to expand the program nationwide. Image Credit: Chicago Young Authors

Breaking Down Barriers with Street-Smart Poetry

Months after his best friend Eddie was killed by a police officer in a hit and run, Demetrius Amparan was on stage sharing the pain of that loss.

“I play pickup basketball games with ghosts. … How many deaths will it take before this is considered genocide,” Amparan shares with chilling emotion.

Amparan’s experience, delivered to more than 100 Chicago youth from at an annual Louder Than A Bomb festival (LTAB), is all too familiar to his peers in the crowd. But it’s that familiarity that unites this group of teens who otherwise wouldn’t cross the imaginary borders along Chicago’s streets.

 “I think for a lot of them, a lot of our stories are the same,” Amparan said. “It creates bridges across the city. When that happens, it breaks down perceptions. …They’re able to find common ground, peace and love in their stories.”

The Fetzer Institute is supporting a year-long research project examining how the Young Chicago Author’s annual LTAB poetry festival fosters a shift from fear to empathy and demonstrates love and forgiveness. The Institute’s support will help LTAB create an educator toolbox and expand their curriculum to other cities nationwide.

“It’s a real opportunity to hear from kids through their own words and experiences how they connect to these themes,” said Program Officer Gillian Gonda. “This is transformational.”

The annual youth poetry festival started in 2002 as a safe space for youth to share their stories. Today, more than 650 youth from 80 schools participate, breaking stereotypes, challenging themselves, and challenging their audience.

LTAB Co-Founder Kevin Coval said the love and forgiveness these young authors are experiencing, and the barriers they are breaking via conversations they are starting, is powerful.

“Young people have always been our vanguard and pushed our society,” he said. “Young people are at the forefront of this war. In Chicago, the culture is no different. Young people are the ones befriending and making real sacrifices.”

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Arts.