Knicks Poetry Slam Attracts Record Number of HS Students
Philippa Christian, a high school senior at Brooklyn College Academy, recently felt her stomach flip when she saw hundreds of students lined up by the registration desk in Madison Square Garden. Taking her place in line, she filled out the forms to recite the poem she wrote on dealing with frustration. “I’ve been writing poetry since I was in 5th grade but this is my first time in a poetry contest. It’d be great if I won,” said Christian. For Christian, winning the New York Knicks/Urban Word Poetry Slam would mean more than bragging rights; it could mean getting into college. The prizes include more than $200,000 in college grants and prizes, as well as two full-paid scholarships to Mercy College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Knicks Poetry Slam was created in 2003 to motivate high school students to express themselves through the written and spoken word. Through its partnership with Urban Word NYC, the Knicks Poetry Slam has provided high school students with opportunities to pursue higher education. The program serves over 10,000 students annually through school site visits, a poetry open audition, a college fair, workshops and poetry slams. As college tuition continues to rise, many high school students are increasingly concerned about their future. “Many of our students are worried [about paying for college] and we’re trying to steer them towards any arena that can help,” said Tiffany Robinson, an after-school program coordinator from the Harlem Children’s Zone who was chaperoning several students at the Poetry Slam. “This is our biggest turnout yet. We’re expecting about 3,000 students to attend today’s college fair and poetry slam,” said Karin Buchholz, Vice President of Community Relations & Field Marketing at MSG Sports Teams.
Inside the MSG Expo Center, students stepped into blue curtained booths to recite their poems in front of the judges. Each contestant had one minute to make an impression. Out of over 400 applicants, only 150 received call backs to advance to the poetry workshops. From November until January, various artists will help the contestants prepare for the semi-final rounds by coaching them on creating new material and presenting their poems. The winners of the education grant and other prizes will be announced in March 2009.
To win a scholarship from Mercy College or the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students had to register at MSG to receive information on an essay-writing contest. The participants must write two essays from which college officials will select the winners in 2009. In addition to the contests, students were also invited to speak with admissions representatives from more than 50 colleges from the East Coast and the Midwest who were also at the Expo Center. Many colleges were there for the opportunity to further diversify their applicant pools. Danez Smith, a sophomore at Wisconsin University who volunteered to attend the fair, said the university is interested in recruiting students for its new program, First Wave Spoken Word & Urban Arts. It is a multi-cultural program that helps students develop their artistic and academic abilities. “We’re looking all over the country and New York is a hotbed for new talent,” said Smith, who aspires to be a hip-hop artist. “This program is the first of its kind and we want to help students nurture their art, which is why we’re offering a full-paid scholarship.”
Some students still had years to go before applying for college, but were eager to get a head start. Essence Shepherd, a 9th grader from Frederick Douglas Junior High School in Harlem, came with her aunt to browse colleges, particularly drama programs. “Her parents couldn’t make it but I offered to come,” said Eileen Shepherd. “The cost of tuition is a major concern but I know they’re going to help her get into college.”#