American Graduate announces winners of spoken-word competition

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Judges and the public have selected five winners of American Graduate’s Raise Up hip-hop and spoken word competition, which asked students to share original poems about challenges that lead students to drop out of high school.

The winners will perform their poems live Sunday at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., at an event hosted by Glynn Washington, host and e.p. of public radio’s Snap Judgment. Each winner will also receive a $5,000 scholarship from the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation.

Raise Up is a partnership between CPB’s American Graduate initiative and San Francisco-based Youth Speaks, an organization that seeks to empower youth through writing and the spoken word. Their national competition was designed to give students a platform for joining the conversation about dropout rates.

The winners are Jonathan Williams, 22, from Milwaukee; Jourdan Lee, 17, from New Orleans; Sarah O’Neal, 19, from Oakland; Nytesia Ross, 19, from Tyler, Texas; and Aaron Golden, 19, from Harper Woods, Mich.

Their entries, available online, offer a variety of perspectives on the challenges and opportunities that students face. In her poem “Nine Faces,” Lee talks about going to Central High School in Little Rock and being inspired by the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who famously desegregated the school in 1957.

Ross’s poem focuses on the run-down condition of her schools and her teachers’ preconceptions that students from lower-income areas will achieve less in the classroom.

“I am not challenged because they see little potential in someone like me,” Ross says.

Representatives from both CPB and Youth Speaks say they hope that the Raise Up competition will become a regular part of American Graduate.