meet the mass leap slam poetry team

by Teddy Wahle | July 2016

For the second consecutive year, Massachusetts Literary Education & Performance (Mass LEAP), a Boston-based collective of writer-educators, is sending a team of youth poets to the International Brave New Voices Festival. The festival is about sharing poems and creating a dialogue surrounding the issues that matter most to young people. While slam poetry performance is the focus of the festival, the young poets are also invited to workshops, presentations, performances, and town hall discussions about pressing social justice issues.

The Mass LEAP team represents the five top-scoring poets from the individual finals of the Louder Than A Bomb Massachusetts youth poetry festival, which is organized by Mass LEAP (and co-sponsored by Mass Poetry).  Although most of the poets represent different teams at the state level, they will compete as one team on the national stage:

Agnes Ugoji, 16, who attends the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science in Roxbury has had a longstanding passion for writing poetry.  She got involved with competitive slam poetry when The Writers’ Room, a writing program run by the nonprofit 826 Boston through her high school, had a slam poetry club that she decided to join.

Chinma Okananwa, 16, attends Peabody High School and represents the Peabody Poetry Collective. “I like to write about things that make me evaluate myself after I’ve written them,” says Okananwa. “The kind of poem that rips my soul out and forces me to stare it in the face.”  For this young poet, the most rewarding aspect of her involvement in slam poetry is having the opportunity to hear everyone’s voice while knowing her own voice is heard too.

Temitope Sholala, 16, who hails from Lynn, started writing in 5th grade. In her work, she strives to share the stories of those who need to be heard without overshadowing their voices.  She anticipates that her experience at Brave New Voices will give her a deeper understanding of her voice as an artist and give her the tools to further develop her skills as a poet.

Kofi Dadzie, 17, got involved with slam poetry during his freshman year at Westborough High School when a group of seniors who were familiar with Dadzie’s rap music asked him to join their team. After his teammates gave him a “crash course in all things slam,” Dadzie fell in love with performance. Slam poetry, says Dadzie, provides the opportunity to be a part of an amazing group of artists who love to write, share, and be heard.

Michelle Garcia, 17, who represents the Indigo Society Poets of Lynn writes about her experiences, social justice, and discovering her roots. Michelle found that her involvement in Louder Than A Bomb has changed her as both a writer and a person, and she says the most rewarding aspect of slam poetry is knowing that her words have an impact on someone other than herself.

The team’s coach is Porsha Olayiwola, Dean of Enrichment at Codman Academy and 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion. Olayiwola is a Mass LEAP spoken-word teaching artist and founded Codman Academy's decorated slam poetry team, which has won two Louder than a Bomb MA championships since the festival’s inception in 2012. With a leader like Porsha, the Mass LEAP team is bound to succeed on the international stage.

Mass LEAP managing director and co-founder Alex Charalambides believes that the impact of Mass LEAP’s team on the national community and the bonds that the poets will forge with artists from around the world are the team’s primary motives for traveling to Brave New Voices. As Charalambides puts it, “Mass LEAP's only expectations for their Brave New Voices team is that they work together as a unit to deliver original, passionate, well-crafted work that represents that best of our statewide community.”

This July, the team will head down to Washington D.C., where they will represent Massachusetts during five days of workshops, slams, showcases, community service and civic participation events. “The fact that the festival takes place in Washington D.C. during an election year is no accident,” says Charalambides. “These voices need to be heard as we move forward toward building the world we wish to see.”

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Support the team and help make youth voices heard!
The Mass LEAP team is accepting donations through their GoFundMe page:
https://www.gofundme.com/massleap


Theodore Wahle is a high school senior from Duxbury, Massachusetts.  He has represented both GrubStreet and Duxbury High School during his five years of involvement in competitive slam poetry.  He was a 2014 recipient a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Gold Medal for his work in slam poetry performance and received The Writing Conference's first place prize in poetry in 2015.