The power of word in context. This is the idea that guides Liberation Lyrics, a youth- centered program which uses spoken word poetry to address social justice issues in Tucson and the greater Southern Arizona region. Youth focus on a topic and through research, statistics, personal stories, artist activist work and a variety of resources learn how their own life experiences are part of this wider context. Youth develop their own stories and begin to create space to intentionally engage with the cultural and political narratives around them.
Liberation Lyrics grew out of the energy created and sustained by the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam (TYPS), which since 2010 has provided an open and welcoming forum for writers aged nine to nineteen to express their "words and dreams, applause and screams." The monthly, audience-judged performance poetry competitions are organized and hosted by youth, with support from adult artist allies. During the 2012-2013 season, over 60 poets from 17 different schools across the region rocked the mic. In addition, TYPS holds frequent "spark performances," sending teaching artists into schools and reaching thousands of students yearly.
TYPS now has a sister program in Liberation Lyrics, both of which share participants, resources and energy. These programs operate together under the new grassroots organization Spoken Futures, Inc. whose mission is:
To widen access to the literary arts and community engagement for young people across Southern Arizona. Through dedication, irreverence and love we use poetry as a tool to dream tomorrow, honor yesterday and live today.
The Liberation Lyrics’ curriculum follows the program structure EDUCATION, CONNECTION and ACTION. Youth learn more in-depth about a topic of social justice bringing their perspectives and ideas to EDUCATE the group; they explore ways that CONNECT them to the issues through their own writings and then support each other as they develop ways to take creative ACTION through youth voice.
For the inaugural season, teaching artists Sarah Gonzales and Logan Phillips worked with youth at Sunnyside and Pueblo high schools for seven weeks in Spring 2013. The after school sessions were coordinated with the schools’ existing poetry clubs, drawing on and supporting their work. Together the teaching artists and youth studied materials, co-lead exercises, wrote and revised poems, aiming to perform them with precision.
Liberation Lyrics was created with the support of a P.L.A.C.E. Initiative Grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, "designed to leverage and enhance resources and talent to implement arts based civic engagement projects that deal with issues of tolerance and or civil society in Tucson and Pima County." Important additional support and encouragement came from the University of Arizona Crossroads Collaborative, which is "dedicated to advancing research, graduate training, public conversation, and ultimately social change in the area of youth, sexuality, health, and rights."
When we study inequity and discrimination, we are moving through barbs and snares that rip at the edges of our hearts and spirits. But together we use our words as salve to these wounds, and we find the way forward through poems—we build our futures by speaking. We understand our stories as interconnected, and hope Liberation Lyrics becomes just one more precisely beautiful stanza in the longer poem of our community.