A Space of Community and Connection: InIt Hosts “Think With Passion” Arts Slam

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The InIt Class of 2019 held their annual Social Justice Arts Slam, entitled “Think With Passion,” on Saturday, January 12th at 6:30pm at More Than Words in the South End. With this event, the class invited the audience to experience the compassion and connection they felt at their Immersion Weekend bonfire.

This past September, the 32 InIt students sat around the bonfire and reflected with one another on all they had learned together during Immersion Weekend. Coming from eleven different Boston-area schools and various grade levels, the students got to know one another during Immersion Weekend, an annual retreat that introduces key concepts the program builds on throughout the year. They spoke about their lives, learned about social justice, and formed a bond that would drive them through their year as InIt delegates. Sitting around the bonfire, they recognized their strong connection as a class.

They carried this feeling of togetherness to the Think With Passion Social Justice Arts Slam. The MCs Morgan Stevenson-Swadling, William Feng, and Maggie Haley explained to the audience that they wanted to recreate this bonfire moment at this year’s slam. A working group of twelve students, supported by an InIt volunteer, brought together talented artists from many artistic backgrounds, including visual art, poetry, dancing, music, and storytelling.

Every moment of the evening provided audience members with this community bonfire feel. Attendees immediately felt this upon walking into More Than Words, an organization that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, are court-involved, are homeless, or are out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. Their event space was intimate and brimming with energy as students prepared to perform. A number of paintings lined one table, as well as a sculpture, “Bedrock,” created by Issa Dray, a depiction of a “symbolic relationship between two female figures unable to bear the load of a heavy column alone.”

The event quickly became standing-room only. As the room filled in, the event’s MCs Morgan, William, and Maggie welcomed everyone to the event.

The first performer of the evening, Justin Vuelto kept the energy building with his freestyle hip-hop dance, followed by both Isabella Brooke and Maggie Haley who performed individual songs. Isabella sang Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You,” a song that Morissette wrote about sexism in the music industry and spoke to the systemic gender discrimination InIt students learn during the program. Following their performances, Esmee Decoia read an original story in which she details the chasm of experience between her and her more privileged friends. While Esmee is not an InIt student, the event planning committee accepted community submissions from young people to perform alongside InIt students. A number of youth outside of InIt performed, including young people from the organization Teen Empowerment.

The night continued with a violin performance, a number of poetry readings, and more hip-hop dancing. The crowd cheered on each new performer. In all, the evening included eighteen student performances and four visual artists’ work.

Many of the performers lightened the mood of the crowd, especially the dancers. In other performances, poets and storytellers transported the audience on a emotional journey as they tackled topics such as identity, grief, and more. While the night’s acts included a wide range of themes and different varieties of art, the entire event was unified by the feeling of community and connection within the room. Students cheered on their friends at every turn – when the performers seemed nervous and when they hit the high note. The three dancers of the night engaged in fun-loving competition while also cheering each other on. When one performer finished reading a moving poem about her separation from her closest friend, her friends provided support and the MCs asked the audience for a respectful moment of quiet.

In addition to providing connection to one another, connection and community were themes throughout the specific acts. Catherine Le performed a poem about the strong bond within the InIt Class of 2019. Storyteller Willington Vuelto from Teen Empowerment spoke directly to his partner as he communicated his desire to be a better person and partner.

The final two acts of the night, in particular, built the community feel among the crowd. When Nate Nics took the stage, he told the audience he was testing a new song he’d been writing. He invited the crowd to take part in it with him, teaching them a line to sing when he pointed the microphone at the audience: “Ain’t no saviors to save us”. He gathered the energy of everyone in the room for his rap, which made the song feel long-beloved rather than newly-written. After Nate, the MCs began their closing remarks before an audience member declared that their friend would be performing. Ikraam Mohamud had originally not signed up to perform because she wanted to make sure other people had an opportunity, but with a few minutes left in the night, her friends made it known that she had something to share. She presented a poem in which she spoke about finding her voice, her sense of self, and her community. While many people see her as shy, she declared, she knows her own power and her ability to affect change.

Following the event, students rushed to congratulate one another. As the planning committee intended, the event provided the audience with the feeling of an intimate bonfire. The audience got to know the performers and likely deepened their understanding of social justice and art. Through art, we are able to recognize and process the hard work that goes into organizing for social change. By sharing art with others, the InIt Class of 2019 strengthened their connection to one another and their work.

Thank you to the young people who organized and performed at the 2019 Think With Passion Social Justice Arts Slam, and thank you to More Than Words for providing space.

Just one week following the Think With Passion Arts Slam, three InIt students from the Class of 2019 spoke at the 2019 Boston Women’s March. Watch their performance here.

About InIt

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Our youth programs work with young people across Greater Boston to help them learn about key social justice concepts and gain skills that support their growth into socially responsible leaders. Click to learn more about InIt.