Youth Leaders Speak Out at YW Boston’s Social Justice Arts Slam


If you want to understand the power of true diversity in social justice work, spend some time with the young leaders in YW Boston’s Youth Leadership Initiative (InIt).

These young adults have a finger on the pulse of the present moment and a knack for articulating what we’re up against in Trump’s America.

On Saturday, January 20th, InIt hosted their yearly Social Justice Arts Slam at the City Year headquarters on Columbus Avenue.  Part gallery show, part youth literary tour de force, the gathering welcomed people of all genders, races, ages, classes and sectors.  In a large, brightly lit, open room, the young artists flowed through the space like poetry in motion.  They lit up conversations and illuminated the stage with personal narratives, as well as historical and modern political and social critiques.

Performance after performance, the audience was called to see, hear, feel, and think their way through conscious, creative expressions shared by InIt delegates, alumni, YW program staff and community members.  Most of the audience sat at the edge of their seats, captivated, taking in each spoken word and absorbing the powerful silences between them.  Those moved by messages of love, solidarity, bravery and fearless truth, snapped their fingers in affirmation or quietly waved a hand in the air, signaling the American Sign Language word for love.

Early in the slam, a young man named Julian took the stage and shared a poem inspired by Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.  He dedicated a section of his poem to praising his mother for doing her best in raising him and his siblings in the city of Lawrence.   His poem delved deeply into the personal, rendering vivid images of growing up poor but hopeful.  His words, spoken solemnly, carved parallels between past and present, touching upon the historical arc of colonialism and disenfranchisement.  In a stanza devoted to pondering what success means, he reassures his mother that she, despite circumstances, and against the odds of social conditions, has managed a thing of beauty.  He tells her that what she was able to give him and his siblings was more than enough and that she can rest assured of her success as a mother for having raised good, smart, hardworking children in the face of real and persistent adversity.

Another striking performance in the Social Justice Arts Slam came from two InIt delegates, Haja and Destin.  They took the stage together to perform a piece they had written last year reflecting on the Women’s March, its exclusion of transgender folks and the significant absence of black women in this and other American feminist movements overall.  Earlier that day there had been a second Women’s March in Boston which was referenced once again by the young artists who introduced their poem and told us why they STILL felt compelled to share the poem’s message a year later.

On January 21, 2017, thousands of women gathered to march.  The privilege could be felt a mile away.  Intersectionality was left on Washington’s corners.  With shouts of Pussy Power! And Pussy Grabs Back!  With pads on walls as backdrops for YOUR revolution.  Vagina is not always female.  Trust me.  I would know…” 

The room fell silent.  The audience sat spellbound by the power of the unified voices calling out and claiming the space denied them.  These young performers stood a thousand feet tall in their convictions, teaching us to think about this moment in more complex and nuanced ways.

“I’ve always been reduced to my genitals.  Forget about me in your protest though.  Issues not urgent enough.  Maybe you couldn’t think of a sign for my situation…” 

Their words, intent on schooling all of us about the potency of youth leadership, perspective and voice, wielded the sharp edges of facts, piercing our comfortable silences.

“There are 64,000 missing girls in the United States right now.  All sun-kissed and black.  All that look just like me.  Not a word was spoken for them.  No one got angry.  What does it take to be an amber?  What about white girls makes them so virtuous and pure?” 

In a time of great political tensions, disappointments and delusions, it’s clear that these young leaders are committed to pushing the public conversation forward with art that is difficult to ignore, with questions that linger long after the lights go out and the stage is cleared.

“Who holds a black woman when the sun goes down?  When the world beats her and tells her to shut her “too-wide mouth”?  When her anger is diminished and her flower is stomped on?  Black women are battered and killed and the white man can’t be bothered.  But let a white woman feel like her vagina is in danger of getting grabbed and all hell breaks loose.  Signs are made.  Marches are held.  News is covered.” 

InIt’s Social Justice Arts Slam placed a brilliant spotlight on the intersectional issues tackled daily at YW Boston.  With powerful art and creative intelligence, the youth leaders in our community outlined the work that awaits us in 2018.  We’ve heard their calls loud and clear.  Now it’s time to build the coalitions, partnerships and alliances that will address the inequities identified  by our young adults.  It’s time for us to lay the groundwork for building a city that welcomes all women, supports all genders, includes all people and marches in unison toward a society worthy of our youth.

Video of Haja & Destin’s piece sourced from the SlamFind youtube channel and filmed at 2017 Louder Than A Bomb: Massachusetts Finals by MassLEAP: