Everyone has done a poetry unit in school, where they learn about famous poets and devices. Still, there aren’t many students who identify themselves as poets. Slam poet Jovan Mays hopes to change that by teaching youth the power of poetry.
“When I ask, ‘Who in here is a poet?” less than 10% of middle and high school students raise their hands,” says Jovan Mays, who has won the National Poetry Slam. “[Poetry is] the voice of the voiceless…your writing matters.” Mays’ poetry program, Your Writing Counts, has been extremely successful in introducing slam poetry in schools and stressing the importance of poetry in general. “It makes me feel fantastic that other people are sharing my vision…poetry is cool. ”
Mays discovered his own love for poetry at an early age. In fact, he won his first poetry award in second grade. Listening to hip hop as a teenager, Mays realized that the hip-hop artists he had come to love were writing and singing about real life issues and social injustices. Mays began following their example himself, and wrote commentaries on what was happening in real life. He distinctly remembers writing a poem about the shooting of Amadou Diallo—a poem that caught the eye of his teacher. After that, “I started gaining a little bit more attention…all these doors started opening for me…when one door opened, twenty more followed. ”
In 2010, Mays made Slam Nuba, a national slam poetry competition based in Denver. In 2011, he became the national winner. After that, his story got picked up, and Mays began talking with educators about how to bring slam poetry into schools.
Despite Mays’ success in his field, he still has not accomplished all that he wishes to. However, receiving such success from his program is a good start. “There is a creative way to say anything, and because of that, nothing should be off-limits. ” Not to anyone, and especially kids who maybe started out just like Mays did: a dreamer in a classroom. Mays hopes to bring out the poet in everyone with his work, and to let everyone know that “your writing matters. ”