Voices of Kalamazoo’s youth recited their original poetry to an audience of approximately 40 people in commemoration to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 11 in Western Michigan University’s Trimpe Multicultural Building.

Ten students, ranging from 12 to 17 years old, from Kalamazoo Public Schools shared their acclaimed poetry pieces for a competition known as the Courage to Create Program.    

The program utilizes the discretion of higher education faculty, staff and students to encourage the community’s youth to engage in writing and research activities.

“There isn’t anything controversial for a writer to talk about,” William Craft, who hosted the event, said. “It’s our jobs as writers to inspire people.”

The readings were broken up into three groups and a participant from each group will be notified if they won by Jan. 12. Finalists from each group will be given the opportunity to perform their piece at the WMU-MLK Campus Visitation Day on Jan. 13 and will also receive campus-themed gear, a writers kit and will have their performance filmed by Public Media Network.

Two educational awards were given to the Hillside Jr. High community. The school was awarded the Excellent Participation Awards for having the most participation among KPS students. The second award, titled the Inspirational Teacher Award, was given to Heidi Ellis who is a teacher at Hillside.  

“There’s a lot of things in life I went through,” said Dreon Smith, a senior at Loy Norrix High School who recited his poem, “Our Name, We Have Something to Say.” “I was born on the south side of Kalamazoo and went through some stuff. My teacher, Ms. Jenkins, she pushed us to become poets. I’ve a got a friend, he was a good poet but quit writing because he had a loved one pass away so I wanted to continue writing for him and keep up the legacy.”

Smith was one of two students from Loy Norrix who presented on Thursday, and there were eight students from Hillside Jr. who presented.

“What makes me American?” 12 year old Aija Hodges asked while reciting her poem, “What Makes Me American.”“Sometimes I wonder. Is it my birth certificate, or is it my skin color? Or is it my citizenship or where I’m ‘really’from? Or whatever slur comes off of a politicians tongue? But sometimes I wonder what makes me American is how I protest, where I put my fist in the air and scream for what I believe in.”

Winners from each group will attend a ceremony on Saturday in the Bernhard Center where the program will offer a writing workshop open to the Kalamazoo community.

“You write because you have something to say,” Buddy Hannah, the event’s keynote speaker, said. “You become a poet when you share your work with other people. It doesn’t matter much unless you share it.”


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