From the moment that guests popped into Youth Speaks’ 24th Annual Brave New Voices Poetry Slam, they were greeted by a live DJ, flashing neon lights, and dance moves — and the energy didn’t stop there. Throughout the youth spoken word competition, over 150 guests listened to and cheered on teen poets from across the world. “The mission of our organization is to create safe spaces where young people can grow, express themselves, and create lifelong friendships. We wanted to build an engaging, colorful ohyay world that felt as inclusive and energetic as our in-person events,” said Joan Osato, Producing Director for Youth Speaks, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that challenges young artists to create social change.
Throughout the event building process, the organizers never lost sight of accessibility, security, and fun. On the accessibility side, they ensured that as many people as possible could engage by setting up live captioning, bringing in an ASL interpreter, and streaming the event out to YouTube. They built decompression rooms staffed with mental health specialists where guests could easily seek support in case they felt overwhelmed by topics brought up in the poetry or workshops. As for the fun? The Grand Slam Finals event hosts, Kat McGill and Jahman Hill, jumped on screen between poems to encourage the audience to jam on the reaction emojis, light up the chat, and even get up and dance.
“When your guests feel safe and comfortable in a live or virtual space, they’re free to completely be themselves and show up for each other,” said Production Manager Brittany White.
As a result, the group that attended the festival created their own tight-knit community and the organizers felt closer to the participants. Guests left the event feeling energized and inspired by poems spanning topics from mental health to racism.
“Especially in such an uncensored virtual space, it was powerful to see affirmations in the chat and streams of reaction emojis. It’s not just clapping emojis rising up on the screen — it’s really connecting with people, giving them love, and planning on connecting later,” said Joan.