Young Voices Will Rise During the O, Miami SPEAKtacular

Poetry is getting a multi-sensory injection of music, dance, and raw power thanks to SPEAKtacular, an O, Miami event produced by the the Jason Taylor Foundation. The event highlights South Florida's burgeoning poetic talent by featuring the Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network's SPEAK! Collective, a group of extremely talented and artistically brave high school students.

Darius Daughtry, the director of poetry programs for the Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network, is one the of minds behind the innovative event. He, along with FIU MFA candidate Ashley Jones and P. Scott Cunningham, the co-founder and director of O, Miami, worked together to make this event a reality.

See also: Five Fun, Easy Ways to Get Involved in O, Miami

Daughtry said the idea comes from his time with the students themselves.

"I've always, in my recent career, worked with kids. I'm a poet myself, and I am an actor, and playwright, and director," he said. "After working with some of kids that I work with now at the Jason Taylor Foundation and the bluapple Poetry Network, I was inspired to create a show that was kind of like a combination of my theatrical experience but [allowed] the poetry of these students to serve as the dialogue or ... the vignettes and to make the poetry the play, in a sense."

The event is meant to be a living representation of the words that make up the acronym SPEAK: Spoken Expression Artistic Creativity (with a K).

"The idea was to come up with a concept to do just that; to allow the words ... of these amazing young people to drive this whole production," said Daughtry. "The show, basically, is them."

O, Miami is known for bringing some of the best American poets, and the world, in order to highlight what the spoken word can do. But there's also a wide pool of talent lining the halls of South Florida's high schools. Daughtry aims to give these voices their time on the big stage.

"The O, Miami festival highlights great poets, some are well known, some are poets laureate, etc. But I think also that these kids have a voice as well. They may not be known, but they are writing some amazing things and they are speaking truth that needs to be heard," he said. "I think also that it's poignant because when you have kids speaking, kids listen. Sometimes the idea of poetry is the adult or the academic or the enlightened. But we have these students, and other high schoolers or younger [children] can look at them and think, 'They're just like me.' It bridges the gap between what sometimes thought of as poetry and what is actual poetry, which is the truth and the ideals of everyday people.

"I wanted to show everybody else, those who are going to events that feature these established poets--just because you're established doesn't mean that you're different than that poet that is unknown. Because we were all unknown at one point or another," he said. "I thought it was very important to get that point [across], and also to give these kids the same platform as these people that are established, give them some pride in what they're doing and to validate their art."

For a person who is new to the world of poetry -- or, at the very least, new to different types of poetry -- Daughtry said the night will be one in which there is "baring of soul."

"These kids are baring their souls, opening up their hearts, telling their tales that needed to get out," he said. "There will be some other things--there will be music, there will be dance. But the focus is on these words, and I guarantee that anyone that steps in that building will not [leave] the same. Anyone that has a certain idea of what poetry is about, their idea is going to be changed a little bit."

Some of the people that might be changed could be the student readers themselves.

"I think the reaction that [the kids are] going to get [will] let them know that it's more than just me telling them that they're great or important, or that they're really good writers," Daughtry said. "When they start getting some feedback from other people that they don't know, who aren't just their family members or friends or teachers, it'll push them even farther along in their quest to be great writers."

SPEAKtacular will add to the diversity that O, Miami already supports and fosters.

"It adds to the idea that there is not one idea of poetry. There is not one set rule of how poetry is supposed to look or sound, or how it should be read, or who's supposed to write it, or who's supposed to read it or hear it. It's a universal art form, and it changes all depending upon who's giving it and who's receiving it," he said. "This goes along the line of other events that O, Miami has produced because we have a diverse group of young people with a diverse number of stories and to have that voice be heard during a month that is national poetry month and these voices of these kids that are our future, I think it's important to hear what these kids have to say and how gifted they are, weaving words to tell their stories."

The SPEAKtacular will be held at the YoungARTS Jewel Box (2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). The event lasts from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

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Monique Jones