Brave New Voices

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Brave New Voices [1] was created by Youth Speaks Inc [2] in 1998 (a non-profit organization from San Francisco promoting youth intellectual and artistic self-development) after the inaugural Youth Speaks Teen slam poetry in San Francisco – the first poetry slam dedicated to youth in the world. Since that time, Brave New Voices has grown to represent youth ages 13–19 from all across the United States and several cities and countries from around the world. BNV is the largest ongoing spoken word event in the world.[3] Cities compose teams of their top 4-6 youth poets to bring to the festival. When the festival began only four teams participated, and the competition has since grown to more than 50 teams.

The final contestants are judged by a jury composed of artistic personalities. In 2010, the jury was composed by the illusionist and TV host Penn Jillette, poets Mayda Del Valle and Beau Sia, musician Talib Kweli and actress Sanaa Lathan.[4][5]

The finale of Brave New Voices in 2008 and 2010 was aired on HBO.

HBO Presents Brave New Voices[edit]

James Kass, Bamuthi and others had worked with Stan Lathan for several years to make sure that young people were booked on HBO’s Def Poetry. Before Russell Simmons and Lathan launched Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, they tried it out in San Francisco, finding appreciative audiences and new talents there. Kass, Bamuthi and others pitched the idea of the Brave New Voices series to Hollywood, and Lathan agreed to make it happen. He brought it to HBO, where the young poets could create without fear of censors.

Brave New Voices works to increase the visibility of youth voices, giving them a national platform on a network that will not censor or stereotype them. It also promotes the work of Youth Speaks and the youth spoken word movement as a whole. The hope is that the show will generate the attention and resources needed to sustain the work both locally in the San Francisco Bay area and nationally.

Youth Speaks had worked with HBO’s Def Poetry for a few years, but the 2008 docu-series was the first direct relationship with HBO. The network provided some corporate support of the 2008 and 2010 Brave New Voices Festival. The TV series has three main partners – Youth Speaks, Simmons-Lathan Media Group, and HBO.

Smaller Competitions Within Brave New Voices[edit]

During the Brave New Voices festival every year smaller, specific competitions are held that are open to all participants in the larger festival. To date there are three of these types of competitions: Speak Green, MC Olympics, and the Individual Poetry Slam. Winners of these competitions are often highlighted during the festival and given other performance opportunities outside of the festival.

Speak Green[edit]

Started in 2007, Speak Green is a competition where participants write and perform poems about the environment and environmental justice. This is a product of collaboration between Youth Speaks and the Robert Redford Sundance Institute. The top poets from this competition then form the Green Team. Past members of the Green Team have been able to perform at the Sundance Film Festival, the US Green Build conference and the Kennedy Center[6] James Redford, son of Robert Redford who is a sponsor of Speak Green, has spoken publicly about the Green Team's efforts: "Artists like the Green Team poets have the power to remind us of the power of our own humanity. By taking something as broad as climate change, and running it through the prism of personal experience and artistic expression, well, what emerges are stories of undeniable honesty and power, stories that can inspire commitments to action, solutions, and change." [7]

MC Olympics[edit]

In 2009, Youth Speaks and Young Chicago Authors created the MC Olympics "as a model to engage rappers in the poet community". The competition is open to all participants of Brave New Voices and each phase of the competition focuses on a certain style or technique of rapping such as freestyling and written verses.[8] The winner of the competition each year is awarded a champion belt similar to those seen in wrestling.

Team Finalists[edit]

Year Winner Runners Up Host City
2017 Baton Rouge, LA (2) Boston, MA

(3) Atlanta, GA

(4) Philadelphia, PA

Bay Area, CA
2016 Baltimore, MD (2) Hampton Roads, VA

(3) Atlanta, GA

(4) Chicago, IL

Washington, D.C.
2015 Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (2) Atlanta, GA
(3) Fort Worth, TX
(4) Minor Disturbance (Denver)
Atlanta, GA
2014 Washington, D.C. (2) Cape Town, South Africa
(3) Get Lit (Los Angeles)
(4) Minor Disturbance (Denver)
Philadelphia, PA
2013 Minor Disturbance (Denver) (2) Washington, D.C.
(3) Urban Word NYC
(4) Albuquerque, NM
Chicago, IL
2012 Minor Disturbance (Denver) (2) Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement
(3) Richmond, VA
(4) Youth Speaks Bay Area
Bay Area, CA
2011 Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (2) Urban Word NYC
(3) Minor Disturbance (Denver)
(4) Detroit, MI
San Francisco Bay Area, CA
2010 Urban Word NYC (2) Youth Speaks Bay Area
(3) Albuquerque, NM
(4) Minor Disturbance (Denver)
Los Angeles, CA
2009 Youth Speaks Hawai'i (2) Leeds Young Authors, England
(3) Youth Speaks Bay Area
(4) Jacksonville, FL
Chicago, IL
2008 Youth Speaks Hawai'i (2) Urban Word NYC
(3) Chicago, IL (LTAB)
(4) Rochester, NY
(5) Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement
Washington, D.C.
2007 Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (2) Providence, RI
(3) Urban Word NYC
(4) Cleveland, OH
San Jose, CA
2006 Youth Speaks Bay Area (2) Urban Word NYC
(3) Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement
(4) Providence, RI
New York City, NY
2005 Urban Word NYC, (2) Youth Speaks Bay Area,
(3) Chico Speaks, Chico CA
San Francisco Bay Area, CA

MC Olympic Champions[edit]

2014 || Juwan Seaton (Philadelphia)

2013 Joey Davis (Kansas City)
2012 Robyn Kidd (Houston)
2011 Robyn Kidd (Houston)
2010 Eli Lynch (Denver)
2009 Kidd K O (Nashville)

Individual Poetry Slam Champion[edit]

Year Winner Runner Up
2012 Daisy Armstrong (Stockton, CA) Kai Davis (Philadelphia)


External links[edit]