Voicing change

‘We were speaking from what we had felt’


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This article was published 19/02/2019 (1324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A reprimand for spaghetti-straps on the playground; a violent partner who refuses to acknowledge the consequence of their actions; a threat of sexual harassment on the streets in your neighbourhood.

Three high school students from Fort Richmond Collegiate have written and recorded a challenging and graphic piece of spoken-word poetry that covers themes of gender and sexual violence in their community and abroad.

Titled What We Teach, the piece is a collaborative effort between Jay Webster, 17, Urooba Ahmed, 15, Sophia Abolore, 16, and professional poet and spoken word project facilitator Steve Locke. The poem was performed by the three students at the Manitoba legislature in early February for the launch of International Development Week. This year’s theme was Together for Gender Equality. The final piece was also simultaneously played for audiences at a Global Affairs Canada event in Ottawa.

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester Fort Richmond Collegiate students Jay Webster, Urooba Ahmed, and Sophia Abolore wrote and performed a piece of spoken-word poetry to raise awareness of gender discrimination and violence for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation.

What We Teach, a three-and-half minute performance, puts the audience into intimate scenarios where women and girls are faced with violence, sexual harassment and discrimination.

“They were our experiences,” Ahmed, who is in Grade 10, said. “We were speaking from what we had felt and what we had endured. It wasn’t difficult (to write) because we’ve experienced these things.”

Abolore said the group set out to make sure their audience understands that gender violence happens in all communities.

“These are meant to be universal experiences, so what we’re trying to do is have the women in the room to go ‘Woah, that was real and scary,’ and for the men to go ‘That’s real? That was scary,’” Webster added.

The poem is a component of the Voices for Change program administered by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, a coalition of Manitoba-based organizations involved in international development. Webster, Ahmed, and Abolore were selected by MCIC from a pool of applicants across the province to participate in the project and work with Locke.

Locke, in his fourth year as a facilitator with Voices for Change, said he helped the young writers create a piece of art that evokes a reaction in the listener and causes reflection. He said the writers came into the workshops with experience in public speaking and poetry, and prepared to contribute ideas to the piece.

“The first time I saw it, I felt affected by it,” Locke said. “I see it as being on par with any of the poetry that is shared at national festivals and competition.

Supplied photo From left, Keana Rellinger, public engagement specialist with the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation; students Urooba Ahmed, Jay Webster, Sophia Abolore; and spoken word poetry project facilitator Steve Locke at the launch of International Development Week at the Legislature, where the group premiered their piece What We Teach.

“The kids were knowledgeable and they had some stakes in it for them,” he added. “They cared about how they were treated, and how others were treated, and it was something that was important to them.”  

The three students agreed using poetry to bring attention to pressing social issues is a critical first step in creating change.

“If it changes one person’s opinion I’m fine with that,” Abolore said. “I don’t really care if the video goes viral, as long as it serves that purpose.”

For more information go to mcic.ca/voices-for-change

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