Youth Speaks is National Poetry Month’s Greatest Treasure

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Youth Speaks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young people through spoken word poetry, literary arts education, and youth leadership programs. With a mission to create safe and brave spaces for young people to find their voice and express themselves, the organization has become a transformative force in the lives of countless young people in the Bay Area and across the nation. In celebration of National Poetry Month, the editorial team at Artist Power Center has selected Youth Speaks as our Featured Partner for the month of April.

To learn more about the organization’s incredible work, the editorial team sat down with three key members of the Youth Speaks team: Executive Director Michelle “Mush” Lee, Communications Director Bijou McDaniel, and student alumni Gretchen Caravajal. Together, they discuss the profound impact of poetry and creative expression, the importance of youth leadership development, and the future of the organization.

Nasira: Mush, Bijou, and Gretchen, can you tell us a bit more about who you are, how you all came to be involved with Youth Speaks, and what your roles are?

Michelle “Mush” Lee: Let me set my people’s up. Sometimes the ED has to step back. Let me warm the mic up for my people. Bijou has been with us for over ten years and Gretchen has been with us since she was, I might mess this up, but around 16/17, as a young poet at Youth Speaks before I gained the white hairs that I have now. I started at Youth Speaks (YS) in 2003, I was a young shorty, San Francisco born and raised. My grandparents lived and died in the Tenderloin, so I spent a lot of time just sitting in the city. Naturally by being in a big metropolitan place full of culture, being born in the 80s, growing up in suburbs in the Bay that were full of immigrant families and kids. Hip-Hop was such a big presence and natural part of my culture, and so I was always listening to Hip-Hop, I was listening to Rap before the inappropriate stuff, so it was just around me is what I’m saying. It’s what we had access to before we could drive or buy CDs, and you know it was on the radio. So that was the cultural language that spoke to my spirit. 

Read the full story on YBCA’s Artist Power Center →