The birth of Chicago’s ½ Pints Poetics (HPP) dates back to the mid 90’s, when Kuumba Lynx founders were volunteering in CPS classrooms and after school programs. It was here, that we merged our music with the work of our parents’ activism and Chicago’s socio-political movements. We challenged students to read, listen and analyze the works of Boogie Down Productions in comparison to the Black Panther Party Platform for Revolution.
Back then, we saw Chicago’s emerging Hip Hop and poetry movement as another vehicle for igniting action against policies like the Anti-Gang Loitering Act, Three Strikes Law, Graffiti Blasters and No Child Left Behind. We even encouraged Local School Councils and teachers to embrace conversations around equitable living and economics through works like Biggie Small’s 10 Crack Commandments. We were devoted to our art, believing it was healing and transforming our lives. We still do trust in the power of an art that reflects the current cultural realities and urban demographics of the United States, Hip Hop.
Around this time, Marvin Gutierrez, currently a Junior and recipient of the First Wave Hip Hop Scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was a member of the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble. At the age of eight, he was deconstructing media images, struggling with social responsibility vs. consumerism, building his personal identity, and developing a worldview informed by his geographical experiences. An early poetic interrogation of the city of wind’s political structures, a poem we called “Trickin the Kids”, positioned him as the youngest competitor in the first year of Louder than a Bomb (LTAB), the nation’s largest teen poetry slam.
That year, there were no age restrictions, only an undisputable need for youth counter-culture. Kuumba Lynx was grounded in the type of work that brought our city to the conversations birthing LTAB. KL’s participants were Chicago’s youth poetry slam pioneers, mentored, by Hip Hop heads full of audacious hope. “Trickin the Kids” didn’t win, but as LTAB reassures us all, “the point is not the point, the point, is the poetry!” The point is, that genius results from a process of engaging very young students in literacy and art making. These early experiences instilled conviction in Marvin Gutierrez and vested a city of emerging Hip Hop educators
These days, it is unquestionable that Hip Hop is a critical educational tool to present and preserve youth voice on issues of justice, equitable education, civic engagement, and literacy development. More often than not we find that standardized education seeks to reproduce ways of knowing that silence, lessen and often whitewash other ways of knowing. Kuumba Lynx’s (KL) work aims to build on the social justice arts framework of progressive educator and activist communities by exploring issues of resistance in creatively performative ways. Honed for almost two decades, and forged by a collective of artists & activists who themselves were raised by Chicago’s urban art & culture, KL has developed into a nationally recognized youth development organization.
½ Pint Poetics is an extension of this Chicago born pedagogy and was formalized in 2008, when, after winning the LTAB slam, youth members of the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble recognized the roots of their success, and helped to implement the ½ Pint Poetics Elementary Poetry Slam (HPP), Chicago’s first socially and environmentally-charged arts competition of its kind. They volunteered as coaches, and logistically, executed a very successful HPP poetry slam, hosting eight teams and an audience of 150+ guests at Clarendon Park. That following summer, public school students from several of the participating HPP teams, including Ravenswood, Uplift and Inter-American, went on to form the poetry crew, Raw Starz. Under the coaching of a former KLPE member, Quenton Cole, aka Solarfive, the Raw Starz presented their first collaboration to an international audience at Chicago’s 2010 Brave New Voices Green Slam. The response to the words of these adolescent youth has energized a movement that has picked up national momentum. More importantly, it has helped highlight research that indicates when students at an earlier age are able to explore issues of cultural identity, and critically look at their world; they improve their self-perceptions and perform better in school.
The aforementioned journey of KL’s high school and elementary school poetry crews is a testament to Hip Hop pedagogy and the necessity for a connected learning method that approaches learning through a continuum model. Neither crew of poets was motivated by the sanction of poetry score cards, but rather, by the process of turning a very intimate piece of their being into a public declaration for the stage. KL’s accomplishment as winners of LTAB 2008, 2010 and most recently, 2013, speaks to the success of engaging elementary school students in an early arts literacy and educational curriculum platform where they can share their stories and validate those of their peers.
The walk of these student-poets has been shaped by the Kuumba Lynx WE GET FREE pedagogy, which is deeply rooted in relationship and community building. Much like the Mississippi Freedom Schools of the Jim Crow era, youth on youth learning is key. KL program participants have always been young, purely a reflection of the safe inter-generational spaces that Hip Hop provides. Six to seven year-olds are readily seen free styling and spitting writings they have generated in KL workshops. These relationships allow participants to gain a literacy that utilizes art-making and sharing, which inspires creative expression, critical thought and innovative actions.
It is within this Kuumba Lynx pedagogy foundation that students can begin to create original performances and installations, travel their works and use them as a foundation for cross-cultural and inter-generational conversations about the state of our world and how we may work to improve the challenges that our youth face. Kuumba Lynx’s ½ Pint Poetics is an entry way for elementary school students to join with teens and college-aged mentors to engage in various community service projects, be exposed to artistic and social justice platforms, and find a common ground through shared experiences and their personal narratives.
The KL journey produces new generations of analytical thinkers, compassionate activists, and committed leaders that have been cultivated by a profound engulfment in Hip Hop pedagogy. It starts with ½ Pints. Word Warrior is a zenith for ½ Pint Elementary Poetry Slam participants. It celebrates their writings and provides a few activities to get any learning community started, on this WE GET FREE journey!