RECAP: The 2017 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series FINALS

Thank you. For the fifth year in a row, the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series Finals bout was an unforgettable testament to the talent, wisdom, and power of Minnesota youth.

Performing in front of a SOLD OUT McGuire theater (in the Walker Art Center), the final 12 poets from the series left it all on the stage, sharing their stories, their opinions, their values, and their art. It was an evening of deeply personal work, fearlessly political work, adventurous and surprising work, and honest work.

The final six: Lana, Armand, Harun, Amir, Asher, and Katherine!

When the dust settled, the top six (in no particular order) were Armand, Asher, Katherine, Lana, Amir, and Harun. Now, these six poets will form the 2017 Be Heard cohort, both engaging in performances and civic engagement opportunities throughout the state, and representing Minnesota at the 2017 Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam and Festival in San Francisco this July.

Thank you to the Walker, especially Walker Teen Arts Program (WACTAC). Thank you to the media present– from our partners Ubuntu Media and Uche Iroegbu, to Twin Cities Public Television and KRSM radio.

Thank you to our judges: Carolyn Holbrook, Neil Hilborn, Dua Saleh, Andrea Jenkins, and Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, all incredible, inspiring artists. Thank you to our DJ: DJ Just Nine. Thank you to our host as well: the incomparable Danez Smith.

Thank you to our feature, Tony the Scribe, as well as both of our sacrificial poets– both Isha Camara and Simone Williams qualified to compete, but had to drop out of the competition due to schedule conflicts arising from their getting accepted into the First Wave program at UW-Madison. They’ll be joining current TruArtSpeaks youth advisory board member (and former Be Heard team member) Duncan Slagle at UW this Fall, and the whole TruArtSpeaks family is both honored to have worked with them and excited to witness what comes next.

Thank you to all of the staff, volunteers, youth advisory board members, and everyone who simply pitched in to help make the event (and the whole series) happen. Thanks to all of the parents, guardians, teachers, and community supporters who continue to power youth voice through their donations, their support, their mentorship, and their applause.

Finally, thank you to the poets. When we say “the point is not the points, the point is the poetry,” we mean it, and we know you do too. Thank you for your bravery, your perspective, and your heart. Let’s keep building.

Check out this slideshow for just a taste of how it all went down. All photos by Uche Iroegbu:

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The #BeHeard17 FINALS Bout is Here! Reserve Your Tickets Now!

Through five preliminary bouts and two wild semifinal rounds, Minnesota poets between the ages of 13 and 19 told their stories, shared their art, and reaffirmed the importance of speaking up and speaking out, now more than ever. On March 25, at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater, the final twelve poets will perform their most powerful work, competing for a chance to join the 2017 Be Heard Cohort and represent Minnesota at the 20th Annual Brave New Voices youth poetry slam festival this July in San Francisco, CA.

Organized by TruArtSpeaks, the Be Heard series is about celebrating—and respecting—youth voice. Regardless of who the final six poets are, “the points are not the point; the point is the poetry.” Poetry slams are competitions, but they’re also spaces in which young people can tell their stories and speak out on the issues that matter to them. For five years in a row, Minnesota youth have risen to that challenge, and Finals 2017 promises to be an unforgettable night of poetry, protest, and possibility.

Event Details:
Saturday, March 25 at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater
6:30pm Doors, 7pm Show.
$7 for Students and Walker members, $10 for Adults
Reserve your tickets now!

It is Time to Be Heard – Register Now for the 5th Annual MN Youth Poetry Slam Series!

3b946b1d-70c1-43ba-8f7c-759bf3d9b83aRegistration for the 5th Annual Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series is Now Open!

For the past five years, TruArtSpeaks’ Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series has provided a platform for hundreds of youth poets to tell their stories and speak their truths to big, energetic audiences. As the country—and the state—head into uncertain times, it is more important than ever to hear these stories and listen to these perspectives.

Through a series of eight poetry slams, Be Heard seeks to identify six youth poets who will both represent Minnesota at the annual international Brave New Voices youth poetry slam and festival in San Francisco in summer 2017, and serve as the #BeHeard17 cohort for the duration of the year, receiving mentorship in writing, performing, and arts leadership.

While the competition element of the series represents an incredible opportunity for the top six poets, the series itself is set up as a space for everyone—from youth slam veterans, to first-timers, to the audience itself—to build community through art, present counter-narratives, and call into being the world in which we want to live.

The full schedule is below; interested poets (who must be between 13 and 19 years old, and have a Minnesota address) can register at www.TruArtSpeaks.org. All bouts begin at 7pm and are open to the public.

  • Preliminary bouts:
    • January 14 at the Black Dog Café in Saint Paul
    • January 21 at the American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth
    • January 28 at the SteppingStone Theater in Saint Paul
    • February 4 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis
    • February 11 at the New Century Theater (Hennepin County Theater Trust) in Minneapolis
  • Semifinal bouts:
    • March 4 at Macalester College’s Kagin Commons Hill Ballroom in Saint Paul
    • March 11 at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis
  • Finals:
    • March 25 at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater in Minneapolis

To register for the slam, click here. For additional inquiries, please contact info@TruArtSpeaks.org


Poets, prepare your pen and person for 912x912-write-to-be-heard-v2-tas-01#BeHeard17 with this series of FREE writing & performance centered workshops at the Minneapolis Central Library. This is your chance to work on concrete description, imagery, writing for social change, writing for performance, form, device and more with some of the Twin Cities’ most recognized slam poets!

No registration or sign up required. Just save the date, show up and be ready to BUST!


912x912-flip-the-script-digital-flyer-v2-tasSave the Date/Register Now: Flip the Script! is an annual writing and performance conference where poets between the ages of 13 and 19 engage with professional artists and arts organizers through workshops, panel discussions, community-building, and more. Presented by TruArtSpeaks, and co-sponsored by the Loft Literary Center, the conference’s third installment will be held on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

#FTS3 will feature leading voices in the national spoken word movement, including Danez Smith, Zhalarina Sanders, Donte Collins, Ed Bok Lee, Andrea Jenkins, Ollie Schminkey, R. Vincent Moniz Jr., Jake Virden, and Khary Jackson, as well as dozens of youth poets sharing their stories and sharpening each other’s skills. Register here!


Interested in supporting MN youth poets img_8962during #BeHeard17 by serving as a volunteer during one of the events? Email info@truartspeaks.org with your availability and join us as we power youth voice in Minnesota!

Judges, Time Keepers, Greeters and more are needed to make this series vibrant each year and we welcome you all to the cypher! Thank you in advance for helping us power the slam series – can’t wait to hear from each of you!


#ReVerbOpenMic is back up and running this week with a writing workshop to kick things off at Golden Thyme Cafe in Saint Paul! Be sure to stop by and share your creative genius with us before the end of 2016!


Our work would not be possible without the support of generous and committed arts, social justice and youth advocates like yourself. Thank you for all you do to support this movement. To continue support our work, #BeHeard17, #FTS3, or more, click here.


Be sure to stay connected with us via social media – @truartspeaks – on all platforms; See you all soon!

Brave New Voices Recap + Duncan and Eshay on Finals Stage!

IMG_2915Home. First things first: the team and the TruArtSpeaks staff would like to thank all of our supporters here in MN for making this trip possible. Everyone who came to a show, donated some money, bought a shirt, or just made some noise– thank you. The 2016 Brave New Voices festival and poetry slam was an unforgettable experience, and while the Twin Cities team didn’t make it to Finals this year (though we did make semifinals!), the team performed beautifully and brought their most meaningful work to a national/international stage. Most importantly, MN poets got to forge relationships with other young change-makers from across the globe, building and strengthening networks that transcend poetry slams.

Between hearing from internationally-renowned poet Amir Sulaiman, participating in multiple workshops and town hall meetings, taking in the sights of DC, and performing in (plus rehearsing for) the slam itself, the team had a very busy week. Check out a few captured moments in this slideshow:

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Another highlight of the week was the response that Duncan and Eshay’s duo piece (about Andrew Jackson and Harriet Tubman sharing space on the $20 bill) got, including after a special performance on FINALS stage. We’ll share video as soon as we can!

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One of the most important aspects of a festival like BNV is being able to build with people from all over the world. Check out the team intro/chant reel, including the Twin Cities (second in the video):

We will post any video of the team as it is made available, but for now– check out Danez Smith’s poem at opening ceremonies. Danez was also interviewed in this Huffington Post piece (along with Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton”) on “Why Poetry is the Best Medium for Kids Who Want to Change the World.” That piece also includes a number of videos from BNV, including this one:

It is good to be home. And as we’ve said all year, Brave New Voices is just one place where this work happens. It also happens here in MN, in many spaces, with many people. The ReVerb open mic is still every Thursday, 6-8pm, at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul. Other events and opportunities are on the horizon. Stay tuned for more!

Send Off Recap + Brave New Voices Is Almost Here!

photo by Uche Iroegbu

photo by Uche Iroegbu

Thank you for powering youth voice and making the 2016 Be Heard Send Off Show such a success. Check out the slideshow for a recap of just some of the magic. All photos by Uche Iroegbu.

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Next up is Brave New Voices. The team has been writing, practicing, and building with each other since the end of March, and they’re ready to rep Minnesota at the festival. Check out this promo from YouthSpeaks:

You can still support the team’s trip through our GiveMN page. Any and all donations are greatly appreciated. Follow the team’s progress on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram too.

Finally, remember that Be Heard is just ONE of many ways we can build together. The #ReVerb all-ages open mic is still going strong, every Thursday, 6pm at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul. See you there!

This Friday: THE SEND OFF (Update Announcing Special Guests) + Rooted Recap and more!

2016 Be Heard MN Send Off Image

The #BeHeard16 Send Off Show is this Friday (June 17): 7pm at the UMN Rarig Center’s Thrust Theatre. Tickets will be available at the door, but you can also reserve yours ahead of time here.

The Send Off is the last chance to see the whole 2016 Be Heard team in action before they head to Washington DC this July to represent Minnesota at Brave New Voices. The team will also be joined on stage by some of our community’s boldest and most experienced voices: Desdamona, Danez Smith, Guante, and Khary Jackson, as well as members of the TruArtSpeaks Youth Advisory Board (including Isha Camara, Keno Evol, Fatima Camara, and Donte Collins; member Chava Gabrielle will also be co-hosting). This is a very special lineup featuring some of TruArtSpeaks’ family, and we can’t wait for you to see the show.

We have been (and will continue to be) posting videos from some of our guests on Twitter and on the Facebook event page’s wall. Check them out!


photo: DigieMade Photography

Huge thanks to everyone who made ROOTED: Hip Hop Choreographers’ Evening at Intermedia Arts such a success, including the organizers, artists, and everyone who came to see the three sold-out shows.

Members of the Be Heard team performed on all three nights; even TruArtSpeaks’ Executive Director Tish Jones got on the mic.

Check out a slideshow of images from the production here.

Also, be sure to check out Intermedia Arts’ other upcoming events, programs, and opportunities here.


seemore reverbFinally, while we gear up for the Send Off and the Brave New Voices trip, remember that the ReVerb open mic is still going strong, every Thursday evening at 6pm at Golden Thyme Cafe (921 Selby Ave.) in St. Paul. Every first Thursday also features a free workshop session at 4pm for anyone looking to sharpen their skills.

ReVerb is free and all-ages, so no matter how much experience you do or don’t have, swing through and share a piece, get some feedback, and/or just listen to others. It’s a space for us to build community and have some fun, each week.


As always, keep in touch via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr for updates!

The 2016 Be Heard Send Off Show + More Big Spring Updates!

2016 sendoff teaser banner2Just announced: the annual BE HEARD SEND OFF SHOW will be Friday, June 17, 2016 at the U of MN Rarig Center’s Thrust Theatre (7pm, $5, all ages). This will be the final opportunity to see the Be Heard team in action (along with some incredible surprise guests) before they head to Washington DC to represent Minnesota at the annual international youth poetry slam and festival Brave New Voices! Aside from Finals, the Send Off is our biggest show of the year; we can’t wait to show our community what the team has been up to. Reserve your tickets here!

It should also be noted that this year’s festival director is none other than Tish Jones, founder and Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks! We’re beyond excited to be plugged into this national movement of artists, educators, activists, and movement-builders in such a powerful way through Tish’s work.


Coach Khary Jackson and members of the Be Heard team.

Coach Khary Jackson facilitating practice.

With BNV right around the corner, spring has been all about practice. That means writing new work, collaborating on group poems, refining performance techniques, and growing as artists. Along with coach Khary Jackson, Be Heard program associate Fatima Camara, and guest artists like Kyra Calvert and Guante, the team has been putting in work to sharpen their craft and continue to use the stage as a space of power and potential.

Two ways that you can power youth voice and support the team (beyond coming to the Send Off) are donating online here and buying a Be Heard t-shirt or hoodie here! Every donation expands the cypher!


rootedOther Upcoming Events:

  • May 21: Youth Leadership Day at the Midtown Farmers Market (2225 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis). The Be Heard team will be performing at 10:15am, 11am and 12pm. Check the link for more info.
  • June 9, 10, and 11 at Intermedia Arts: ROOTED: Hip Hop Choreographers’ Evening. Winner of the 2014 Sage Award for Outstanding Dance Performance, ROOTED is a celebration of the foundations of Hip Hop. The first and only choreographers’ evening focused exclusively on Hip Hop dance and its roots (African, Latin, Tap, Step, Breaking, Popping, Locking, Toprock, Waacking, House, Old School and New School), ROOTED is celebrating its fifth year. The Be Heard team will be performing at all three shows, and TruArtSpeaks ED Tish Jones will be at the June 9 and June 10 shows. Reserve tickets here!
  • Every Thursday at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul: The ReVerb Open Mic is still the best place to show up, plug in, and get involved! 921 Selby Ave. in St. Paul. 6pm. Free. All ages! (And don’t forget about the writing workshop every first Thursday of the month at 4pm).

TruArtSpeaks Receives First Universalist Foundation GrantUU-Blog-Logo

A huge thank you to the First Universalist Foundation, who selected TruArtSpeaks as one of the recipients of their Spring 2016 granting cycle. That $5,000 will support the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series, helping that program reach as many young people as it can, and continue to make a positive impact on our community.


We will be releasing videos from Finals very soon; in the meantime, be sure to check out the TruArtSpeaks YouTube page for any you may have missed. One of the easiest and most important ways to power youth voice is to LISTEN to them!youtube page


Stay tuned for more! As always, we are on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram!

#BeHeard16 Finals Recap and THANKS!

Be Heard Top 6 with Logo

On Saturday, March 26, the 2016 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series came to an unforgettable close. In front of hundreds of audience members inside the packed McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center, twelve young poets shared their stories and left it all on the stage. At the end of the night, Amir, Sydney, Harun, Eshay, Duncan, and Yasmin were the top six and (if they choose to) will go on to represent Minnesota at this year’s Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam and Festival in Washington DC. Congratulations to them, and endless thanks to all of the poets who gave so much all series-long!

The evening showcased too many beautiful moments to recap in full here; check out the slideshow below (photos by Uche Iroegbu) for a taste of how powerful the energy was in that space:

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We’ll post videos soon, but in the meantime: THANK YOU! to all of the staff, volunteers, interns, judges, features, media, audience, donors, sponsors, partners and everyone. Thank you to the Walker Art Center (as well as the Loft Literary Center, the MacPhail Center for Music, Roosevelt High, Southwest High, Intermedia Arts, Walker West Music Academy, and Patrick’s Cabaret). Thank you to everyone who shared a link, brought people to a slam, or helped support this work in any way. Most of all, thank you to the poets: for your courage, your talent, and your willingness to share so much of yourselves with us. We can’t wait to keep building with ALL of you.

While #BeHeard16 has ended, our work hasn’t. Watch out for an announcement about the big sendoff show in June, plus other events featuring the team between now and then; also, we’ll see you at the Re-Verb open mic, still every Thursday at 6pm at Golden Thyme Cafe!

#BeHeard16’s Thrilling Conclusion is Here!

Finals Flier FinalThrough seven packed, raucous preliminary and semifinal slams, twelve youth poets have emerged as the finalists in this year’s Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series organized by TruArtSpeaks.

At Finals, these twelve will share their work, tell their stories, and leave it all on the stage as they compete for five slots on the team that will head to Washington DC to represent Minnesota at the 2016 Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam Festival. As always, however, “the points are not the point; the point is the poetry,” and no matter who makes the team, the Finals slam promises to be one of the biggest, best, and most transformative Twin Cities arts events of the year.

Congratulations to the twelve finalists: Harun Abukar (Minneapolis), Yasmin Aden (Saint Paul), Eshay Brantley (Minneapolis), Sydney Holmes (Minneapolis), Cypress Kenney (Minneapolis), Amir Khadar (Brooklyn Center), Pierre Lawhon (Brooklyn Center), Olivia Mahedy-Wilson (Minneapolis), Mark Pekala (Minneapolis), Elizabeth Pierce (Saint Paul), Duncan Slagle (Mound), and Katherine Wagner (Buffalo).

Event Details:
Saturday, March 26 at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater
7pm. $7 for Students, $10 for Adults; Reserve your tickets now!
Hosted by Danez Smith and Laresa Melody Avent


Semifinals Recap

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This year’s two semifinal bouts were both packed, proving yet again that here in Minnesota, our community is down to power youth voice. Huge thanks to everyone who attended, our judges, our two semifinal partner venues (The Loft Literary Center and MacPhail Center for Music), all of our partners in general, and especially the poets! Here’s a recap of semi #1, plus a poem from Eshay X!



Additional thanks to both the Twin Cities Daily Planet and 3-Minute Egg, who both ran gorgeous video features on the Be Heard series:


TruArtSpeaks is a 2016 LRNG Innovators Challenge Granteeeducator_innovator_logo_NWP

LRNG Innovators is challenging teachers themselves to reach beyond the schoolhouse door to develop partnerships and programs that connect in-school and out-of-school learning and create opportunities for young people to follow their interests and do ambitious work.” TruArtSpeaks is proud to be part of this challenge through our collaborative proposal:

From Classroom To Community Spaces: Cultivating Voices That Matter Through Arts Literacy
***TruArtSpeaks, Minnesota Writing Project, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN***
This partnership seeks to bring in-school and out-of-school learning together through a collaboration of teachers and artists who prioritize creating space for the development of youth voices at the intersection of social justice, literacy, and arts. By designing a high school course together, From Classroom to Community Spaces will develop a curriculum anchored in contemporary African American literature, utilizing elements of Hip Hop and Spoken Word culture. Moving fluidly between the high school campus and local art space, this collaboration will meet the interests of students, provide equitable access to relevant coursework for students, and provide a space for students to develop their own voices in dialogue with contemporary African American texts and issues.


Job Opportunity with Graywolf Press

Our friends at Graywolf Press are seeking an organized, detail-oriented, and well-read person for the position of Editorial Assistant. If you’re looking to work in the world of publishing, check out the full job description here.


The Re-Verb Open Mic is Still Every Thursday Night

We’re all excited for Finals, but it’s also good to remember that the Be Heard slam series is only one way to get involved. Come build with us every Thursday night from 6pm-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul. Bring a piece, bring a friend; share something, give feedback, or just listen. This is where the work happens!

Keep in touch through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr too!

#BeHeard16 Swag!

IMG_5471#BeHeard16 Swag is now available! Power youth voice in style with a gold hoodie or t-shirt. Be in solidarity with the team when they travel to Brave New Voices this summer. Rock your hoodies and t-shirts at the same time as they rock theirs on the greatest stages Washington D.C. has to offer! 100% of the proceeds go towards expenses associated with travel to the festival.

Click here to place your order!

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