By Mason Johnson
Mayor Emanuel’s loudest opponent isn’t a local politician or the Chicago Teacher Union’s Karen Lewis. That honor goes to the teens in the slam poetry group TEAM Englewood, whose latest poem verbally eviscerates the Mayor.
Competing in the semi-finals of the youth poetry competition Louder Than a Bomb, TEAM Englewood read a poem titled, “Hide Your Schools, Hide Your Homes, Hide Your Children, ‘Cause He’s Wrecking it All.” TEAM Englewood Community Academy‘s Dallas Battle, Kenyatta Tolbert, Alicia Hinton and David Holmes leave no mystery when it comes to the target of their poem, the second line makes it quite clear: “Rahm Emanuel is single handedly destroying our city.”
Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB) is the biggest youth poetry festival in the world. Founded in 2001 by Kevin Coval and Anna West and run out of Young Chicago Authors — an after-school program that offers workshops to teens across Chicago — LTAB pits teams of high school students against each other in a poetic battle royal. Competition or not, winning isn’t the focus of LTAB, as seen through one of their mottos: “The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”
Through poetry, TEAM Englewood is able to humanize their neighborhood in a way that the media — which tends to only associate Englewood with their high homicide rate — often fails at. “When people think of Englewood, they have their stereotypes,” said coach Dave Stieber. “This experience let’s everyone know they’re regular kids.”
The closings of Chicago schools and clinics, City Hall’s use of TIF funds and plans to build a railroad freight yard where Englewood residents still live are subjects criticized in TEAM Englewood’s poem. It rips into Mayor Emanuel for decisions that have affected communities like Englewood significantly more than others — and not necessarily in a good way.
Read the poem in full in the about section of the video’s YouTube page.
Considering the fact that teens aren’t usually into the minutia of local politics, it’s easy to assume the coaches may have been heavy handed with their influence. Ask coach Missy Hughes, and she’ll say that is not the case “The kids will write the large ideas about what frustrates them societally,” said Hughes.”Then the coaches come in and get them to focus on what’s affecting them and their world and neighborhood directly.”
The coaches do this by encouraging the kids to independently research the topics they’re talking about.
What did TEAM Englewood’s research yield? According to coach Hughes, “The kids went and did their research and came back and said, ‘He’s even worse than we thought.'”
Talking to TEAM Englewood poets Dallas Battle and David Holmes, it’s easy to see that the passion and a need for poetry comes straight from the students.
To Battle, who joined TEAM Englewood this school year, poetry is a way to be heard. “It’s the only way I can get hundreds of people to listen to me,” she said.
“I want to show people how twisted politics can really be,” said Holmes. “Rahm Emanuel says we have no money for schools, but we have money to build a new DePaul stadium and other stuff downtown?”
What does Mayor Emanuel think of the video?
Mayor Emanuel has yet to share his opinion on the poem. To his credit, he did attend Louder Than a Bomb a few years ago and even donated to Young Chicago Authors after loosing a bet with his Twitter doppelgänger. It seems doubtful he’ll be making another donation anytime soon…
What do Holmes and Battle think he’d say if he saw it? David thinks Mayor Emanuel “would be flabbergasted.”
“He should be offended,” said Dallas. “‘Cause that’s what we were going for.”
According to coach Hughes, the poets only had one question after finishing the poem: “Where can we perform this in front of Rahm Emanuel?”
Hopefully they get their chance.
The Louder Than a Bomb finals are March 15th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Though TEAM Englewood won’t be competing in the finals, they will be performing their poem at the finals as they accept the Chuck D. Lyrical Terrorist Award. Find out how you can donate to Young Chicago Authors here.
TEAM Englewood is Kenyatta Tolbert, Alicia Hinton, Dallas Battle and David Holmes. They were coached by Dave Stieber and Missy Hughes with assistance from Kelly Rushek, Jeremey Johnson and Robb Telfer.
Mason Johnson is a Chicago native who lives in Logan Square. He attended Columbia College Chicago and is a Web Content Producer for CBS.