I’m not a regular watcher of America’s Got Talent, but the pandemic changes many things. So, recently, I ended up watching the last few episodes of the talent competition. There were singers, lightening-speed dancers, magicians, death-defying aerialists, and one extraordinary spoken word artist, Brandon Leake. The first time I heard his poetry, it took my breath away. I became an instant fan but thought the odds against a poet winning a show based on audience votes were long. But I was wrong. Clearly, I was not the only person moved by the 27-year old new father, teacher, counselor and creative poet from Stockton.
His introductory poem was a tribute to his lost younger sister, his final poem an extraordinary ode to his daughter and the weight of fatherhood. In between, we heard about his absent father and the raw and the painful link between his mother’s words and Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. This is not poetry for young children, but if your middle or high school students are ready for those stories, it will prove to them that poetry is not the province of dusty Victorian volumes. This is poetry that gives voice. It will inspire your students and you as well. Don’t miss it. Think about how your students can bring their voices to the world of poetry. You can start below.
Here’s the Leake’s first performance, that catapulted him into the live shows. (The first five minutes show his performance, the rest is the judges.)
And here is the poem about Leake’s mother and social justice.
You can find the other performances on YouTube. You won’t regret the search.