May 4, 2005
Teachers, students compete
in poetry slam
By Denise Barnes
squared off in a literary battle at Ballou Senior High School in
Southeast yesterday, some of whom used the spoken word to pay tribute
to student Lavelle Kendall Jones, who was fatally shot late last
month and laid to rest Monday.
About 100 students filled the school's auditorium to cheer on their
classmates and teachers during the school's first Students vs. Faculty
"This is a great feat in terms of creating literary genius
and a profitable exercise for students," said Lionel Roberts,
a slam participant and advanced-placement history teacher at Ballou.
Mr. Roberts, 45, penned a poem titled "Saving Brothers From
Themselves," which he dedicated to Lavelle, whom he described
as a "promising student."
Lavelle, 16, was killed April 24 in Southeast when a bullet was
fired into his head from someone in a car in the next lane. At the
time, he was in the passenger seat of a car at a red light, police
Mr. Roberts said the slam provided students with a creative outlet
to voice their thoughts about their community and the challenges
they face every day.
"Every year, one, two or three students have been killed since
I've been here. One student was killed inside the school, and many
students are killed in the streets," Mr. Roberts said. "I
think it's such a great [accomplishment] for these students to make
it to Ballou every day and show happiness and concern for each other,"
in spite of their circumstances.
The hour-long slam was sponsored by the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop,
a nonprofit organization that provides students at Ballou, Simon
Elementary School and Charles Hart Middle School in Southeast with
intensive literary-arts instruction.
Jamila Wade, the organization's senior program director who emceed
the slam, announced the publication of Ballou's new literary magazine,
"Voice of the Knight." The magazine is a compilation of
poetry written by students over the course of a year.
"Grief, anger, fear, frustration, acceptance, forgiveness,
peace, joy, love. We need poetry to deal with life's everyday struggles.
We need it to heal us, we need it to help us rejoice. Without self-expression,
without writing, without our words, we would have no voice,"
Ms. Wade said before introducing the student artists and instructors.
Shawnita Jackson, 17, who won the slam, stepped up to the microphone
with only her memory, experiences and voice upon which to rely.
The 10th-grader exuded confidence as she passionately recited her
poem, which she called "My Voice."
"My poetry makes me think of my past, the things that I go
through -- the things I've been through," Shawnita said.
"My poetry relieves my depression -- depression about things
that go on in the neighborhood. Poetry is the only way to release
it. [But], right now, I'm very, very, very happy," she said,
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