By Curt Yeomans
North Clayton Middle School eighth-grader, Candace Duffy, exuded confidence as she strutted onto a makeshift stage - lit by multicolored Christmas lights - to express her feelings to her fellow students.
Duffy, 13, was participating in the school's "Poetry Slam 2009," which was held in the school's library on Thursday afternoon. She took a moment to get herself ready. A classmate, Hydeia Walters, held the microphone while Duffy ran her right hand through her shoulder-length, black hair. With her left arm extended in front of her, Duffy held a vanity mirror in her left hand.
She read a poem entitled, "Ode to My Weave."
Its name drew a few gasps from her audience of sixth-graders, but as Duffy read her poem, her eyes were fixed on the typed words on her mirror. She was undeterred as the words rolled off her lips in a strong, confident voice.
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall," Duffy said, as she began reciting her poem. "Who has da prettiest weave of them all?"
The "Poetry Slam 2009" event was a reward program for students who are meeting state standards in reading, said North Clayton Middle School Media Specialist Rochelle Jacobs. As part of the Georgia Performance Standards curriculum for reading, students have to read at least 25 books during the school year.
Throughout the year, students must read certain numbers of books by certain dates to meet that benchmark, Jacobs said. She said that to either read at "Poetry Slam 2009," or sit in the audience, the students had to read at least five books by Oct. 7.
"In the past we've done pizza parties and ice cream socials as rewards for the students," Jacobs said. "This time, we [school officials] wanted to do something different, something literary. The goal was for the students to get in touch with their creative juices. It went over well with the students, so this is something we're going to continue doing."
In addition to 20 students who read poetry, Adrian Mobley, a substitute teacher, played a song on his guitar, and eighth-grade Language Arts Teacher Cassaundra Bell gave a performance on her saxophone. Other guest artists included 107.9 FM radio personality "Reese," and Atlanta-based musician, Russell Trotter, whose stage name is "Mr. Hustle."
Overall, several of the poetry readers said they liked having the poetry slam event as a way to express their feelings. Eighth-grader, Miles Nicholson, 13, read a poem entitled "Change," which called on the people who supported Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign to continue supporting the nation's president. Nicholson said he enjoyed the event because he enjoys poetry.
"I love it," Nicholson said. "I've always wanted to be a poet. Def Jam, Brave New Voices, all of that appeals to me."
Sixth-grader, Zoria Freeman, 11, who read a poem entitled "Gain," said she decided to participate in the poetry reading "because I get to inspire people, and let them know they, too, can make a difference."
Eighth-grader, Allison Higgins, said events like "Poetry Slam 2009" are needed by students because they give them an outlet to express themselves in another form of art, besides dance, theater, and illustration.
"Not all of us can draw, and not all of us can sing," Higgins said. "Therefore, poetry is our thing."
After Duffy finished her poem about her weave, she said she felt good about the experience. During her performance, she pointed out that one of her role models, talk-show host and former model, Tyra Banks, also wears a weave.
"I'm telling them why I'm wearing a weave," Duffy said. "I feel good about this because everybody can finally know why I wear it."