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Di Dinnis/MEDILL

Teens from Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Humboldt Par perform their group poem at a preliminary round in the Louder Than a Bomb competition.

Bringing a city and its youth together

by Di Dinnis and Robyn Murray
Mar 5, 2013

Robyn Murray/MEDILL

Hear a sample mix of LTAB poets from Parker, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, Fenwick and Holy Trinity High Schools.

Di Dinnis/MEDILL

Demetrius Amparan of Young Chicago Authors discusses the roots of Louder Than a Bomb and its ability to bring teens together from across the city.

Robyn Murray/MEDILL

Hear Myles Bell, student at Julian High School, perform his spoken word poem at a recent rehearsal. 

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The competition

For the past few weeks, teens have been competing in several preliminary bouts throughout the city. The top 16 teams will advance to semi-finals and the top four will advance to finals on Saturday. The top eight individuals will also compete in an individual final Wednesday.

Tickets for the finals have sold out.
Three African-American women. All from different neighborhoods. All with different stories. You will hear them in the following parts of this narrative.

Essie Linzy is one of them. A gay black woman, Linzy says that she always considered herself to be an accepting person, but Louder Than a Bomb has taught her acceptance on another level.

“Not only does it teach you to be more accepting, I just learned so much about different cultures,” she said. “Even in my own community, in the gay community, [I met] a person who doesn’t like to be identified as a he or a she. I’ve never encountered a person like that in my life. It just taught me so much about what it means to be human.”

There’s no other event in Chicago that brings 900 students from 100 schools together to share their experiences through poetry. Young Chicago Authors sponsors the Louder Than a Bomb spoken word youth festival, which started in 2001.

This is more than just a poetry competition. The festival is a bridge for youth from different backgrounds and parts of the city to share their stories.

Demetrius Amparan, director of communications for YCA, joined his poetry club at Morgan Park High School in South Chicago when he was 16. He won the competition in 2008 and went on to place third nationally. Now on staff with YCA, he says he can relate to the teens in their poetic journeys.

“I know from experience being a teen in Chicago you usually just stay in your pocket,” he said. “For example, I met this guy named Adam on the North Side when I was competing. I never would have went over there.”

“Now I’m comfortable moving through the city,” he said. “[The teens can now] understand different cultures and understand different people instead of having these set stereotypes in my mind of what these places are like.”

The competition provides a platform through which teens can get their emotions out, Amparan said, in a way that’s accepted by their peers.

“I saw this one young lady who went on stage and she talked about her mother who had a drug problem, and she said this to a bunch of people she didn’t even know,” Amparan said. “Waiting for her when she got off the stage was just a bunch of kids ready to hug her, they didn’t even know her and were consoling her. I was like, ‘This is where I wanna be. This is a great family.’”

Many teens have found family in the poetry clubs at their schools and through LTAB. These stories are a journey across the city to find some of these teens and hear their stories.

Linzy placed second in individual finals last year. She says she met so many people through the competition that she normally wouldn’t be friends with.

“It’s just that the city’s so segregated – and it’s like the West Side – just black people –that’s who I know and that’s what I was,” Linzy said.

“When I was introduced to poetry, I saw all these people, all these different voices and I just feel like I’ve learned so much from them.”