A group of young Bermudian poets were handed aeroplane tickets and the opportunity of a lifetime representing the Island in a world renowned spoken word festival.

ChewSLAM, the youth division of the performance artist collective Chewstick, will journey to San Francisco next week to perform at the Brave New Voices Festival.

Founded by entrepreneur Russell Simmons and filmed by HBO, it is considered the largest youth poetry festival in the world.

The young people took part in a fundraising show on Sunday along with entertainers Heather Nova, Ras Mykkal and Stephan Johnstone

This will be the first time a group from Bermuda is represented at the festival.

Kevina -Lorae Davis, 18, said: “After living in America, so many times you hear ‘where’s Bermuda?’ [There’s a] whole bunch of misconstrued information about what Bermuda is.

“I am excited they get to see who Bermudians are as a people. That is why we made an effort to represent Bermuda in our poetry so we can educate them as well. We tried to let some of our accent come out in our poems.”

Tanae Hassell, Kalaeb Tannock, Kaiies Clarke, Marq Rodriguez, Matthew Johnston, Makeem (Haz) Bartley and Ayana Ming-Bean will also participate.

Said Chewstick founder Gavin (Djata) Smith: “A lot of the local scene isn’t fully aware of the potential of poetry and spoken word and a lot of the plan in working with the young people is educating them on the opportunities that are out there.

“What is really special about this group is several of them heard about Brave New Voices before. So it made it easy to sell them our vision on getting ourselves together and getting us out there.”

He said the group currently representing ChewSLAM was the strongest they’ve had since founding the programme three years ago.

“[Initially] we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do it financially or what the criteria was.

“It was February that we decided we would do it and make sure everyone was ready. ChewSLAM performed for the first time at our anniversary and they were wicked and the performance was one of the most memorable and the best poetry performance of the night.”

The group was officially accepted for Brave New Voices in May.

Said 16-year-old Tanae: “I am very proud I could be the first and I hope there is more after us.

“I’m nervous because Brave New Voices is a very big deal and well established. I know some of the kids have been studying for years and years to get to Brave New Voices, but a lot of us haven’t been studying as long.

“I feel we can still do it which is why we are excited because we have the dedication and put in a lot of work and time. I feel my team mates are at a very high level and as a group we can get it done.”

Fifteen-year-old Marq said it would be a good learning experience for the team.

“I’m excited because it’s an opportunity that I have never gotten before.”

The teenagers were asked to create three individual and three group poems for the festival.

Most of their poems draw from personal experiences, including murders and shooting deaths that have happened on the Island in the past three years.

Tanae said: “We all had to write something that was personally hard for us. Some people chose to write about society or murder.

“We had some people that had members of their family that had been murdered or friends that had been killed. And because we shared a lot about ourselves we grew closer as a group.”

Kalaeb Tannock, 15, said one of the biggest challenges was memorising longer poems for the competition.

The Berkeley Institute student said he was looking forward to representing Bermuda “because to me people do not know what Bermuda is and they do not know what we are going to bring out or say”.

“That makes us have a better chance because people will have to wait and see what we bring out and see how good we are.”

The group’s youngest member, 13-year-old Kaiies, echoed the sentiment.

He said the group had a chance at winning because they had a different style “that no one has ever heard before”.

“That gives us an advantage. We put a lot of feelings in our writing and emotions into our poetry.”

The group encourage people to give anything they can to the programme. Tanae said it was important for locals to get behind a group of young people doing something positive.

She said: “I think arts and poetry or music isn’t supported as much in Bermuda because it doesn’t have a giant money sign attached to it.

“But we just hope people would see we are young people trying to do good and put Bermuda on the map in a positive way.

“Even if they couldn’t make it to Sunday’s show, I hope they send in a donation. It’s just encouraging that young people are proud to go to this conference and represent Bermuda in a way that it has never been represented before.”

Chewstick Foundation is still $4,000 short of its goal. To donate by direct online deposit or by calling in a card # over the phone (292-2439), to The Chewstick Foundation.

Useful websites: www.youthspeaks.org/bravenewvoices; www.chewstick.com

The Royal Gazette