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NEH Announces the National Youth Spoken Word Ambassador Program

National Youth Spoken Word Ambassador Program Announced at Brave New Voices Festival

The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Youth Speaks, and Urban Word Launch Program to Recognize and Elevate the Voice of Exceptional Young Spoken Word Poets

Washington, DC (July 16, 2016)—The two largest spoken word organizations in the country, Youth Speaks and Urban Word, in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) and with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), have come together to create the National Youth Spoken Word Ambassador Program, the first-ever government recognition program for spoken word poets. The program will recognize five Spoken Word Ambassadors annually who demonstrate an exceptional ability to tell stories, to critically and creatively analyze their worlds, and to present that information in a way that is accessible to large and diverse audiences.

The first of these events is the grand finale of the 19th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival taking place at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Perfoming Arts in Washington, DC on Saturday, July 16.

“The National Spoken Word Poetry Ambassadors Program taps into both the power of poetry and the power of ideas.” said William D. Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, “It expands our efforts to nurture the next generation of purpose-driven creative young leaders by having them engage with renowned scholars, poets, and writers around contemporary issues facing our society.”

The five Ambassadors were selected from a pool of Youth Poet Laureates from across the country, and were chosen based on the quality of their writing and their commitment to social justice and civic engagement. The Ambassadors are now finalists to become the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, a program of Urban Word, to be decided in April, 2017.

“This program is important and necessary because it not only celebrates artistic excellence, but also prioritizes civic engagement and social justice,” said Michael Cirelli, Executive Director of Urban Word, “These young writers are great poets and great leaders. Urban Word’s Youth Poet Laureate movement, in partnership with Youth Speaks’ Brave New Voices network, and the support of the President’s Committee and the NEH provide a model of collaboration that will only inspire other organizations to work together to champion youth voice in this country.”
This year’s National Youth Spoken Word Ambassadors are:

·         Hawa Rahman, the first-ever Detroit Youth Poet Laureate and recent graduate of the Detroit International Academy of Young Women. Hawa is a Muslim-American, a Gates Millennium Scholar, and will double major in Product Design and Arts Education at the College for Creative Studies this fall.

·         Amanda Gorman, the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, and Executive Director of One Pen One Page, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and leadership through international storytelling initiatives and an online teen-lit mag.

·         Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay, Nashville, Tennessee’s first Youth Poet Laureate, who has read original work at Mayor Karl Dean’s State of Metro address, Nashville Public Library, TEDxNashville, CREO Salon, and Mayor Megan Barry’s recent inauguration.

·         Nkosi Nkululeko, the 2016 New York City Youth Poet Laureate who has received fellowships from Callaloo and The Watering Hole as well as nominations for the Independent Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize.

·         Andrew White, Houston Youth Poet Laureate and graduate of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with a creative writing major. Andrew is a founding member of the Houston Art for the New Generation (HANG) teen leadership group at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Writers in the Schools (WITS) Youth Advisory Council. 

“This is about recognizing there’s an entire generation of writers out there who bring the real world into their work every day. They are the voice of 21st Century America and we want their voices to be heard, their work to be read, and their poetry to be taken seriously,” said James Kass, the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Speaks and Brave New Voices.

Over the next year, each Youth Spoken Word Ambassador will perform at a series of public events around the country integrating spoken word poetry and public humanities.

The first of these events is the grand finale of the 19th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival taking place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on Saturday, July 16.

For the last five years, the President’s Committee has supported a cadre of youth poet leaders through the National Student Poets Program. “This new initiative will support outstanding spoken word poets from across the country who will serve as ambassadors for creative expression,” said PCAH Executive Director Megan Beyer, “At the same time they will enrich spoken word and educational programming in targeted underserved communities across the United States.”

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Youth Speaks is a multi-faceted organization that understands and believes that the power, insight, creativity, and passion of young people can change the world. Founded in 1996, Youth Speaks is widely credited for having launched the youth spoken word movement through a comprehensive series of arts education and youth development programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, and producing the first youth poetry slam in the nation in 1997. Youth Speaks launched the Brave New Voices Festival and all of its subsidiaries in 1998. Youth Speaks has maintained an integrated series of ongoing programs that serve as many as 40,000 youth locally, and over 250,000 across the country. Learn more about Youth Speaks here: http://youthspeaks.org/

Urban Word, founded in 1999 in NYC, began with a focus on championing the voices of New York City youth by providing platforms for critical literacy, youth development and leadership through free and uncensored writing, college prep and performance opportunities. Presenting literary arts education and youth programs in the areas of creative writing, spoken word, college prep, literature and hip-hop, Urban Word’s host of programs and artistic development opportunities serve more than 25,000 NYC teens to each year. Through their Creatively College Bound Program, Urban Word awards more than $1,000,000 in scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities each year.  In 2007, Urban Word launched the National Youth Poet Laureate Program that celebrates artistic excellence, civic engagement and social justice in more than 35 cities across the county. Learn more about Urban Word and the Youth Poet Laureate movement here: http://www.youthlaureate.org/

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities bridges the interests of American federal agencies and the private sector, supports special projects that increase participation and excellence in the arts and humanities, and helps incorporate these disciplines into White House objectives. First Lady Michelle Obama is the Honorary Chairman of the PCAH. Learn more about PCAH here: http://www.pcah.gov/

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an independent federal agency, provides support for documentary films, digital media and other educational programs in the humanities through competitive grant programs. The NEH is the nation’s leading supporter of research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:  www.neh.gov.

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About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Theola DeBose at (202) 579-9385 or media@neh.gov