"When I started to write about myself as far as like my identity of being a queer male of color from East Oakland, that was terrifying...It becomes that you realize you have a responsibility, something that started off as just me needing to express myself because I didn’t have nobody to talk to or I didn’t think anyone would listen to me, becomes other people need to hear this because I know there's someone else from where I'm from or from a similar place. This can change something for them."
- Joshua Merchant, Off/Page Project Fellow, poet, and activist
Youth Speaks is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that seeks to empower the voices of the next generation. Its mission is to provide a safe space for young leaders, self-defined artists, and visionary activists to explore, develop, perform, and publish their works and become agents of social change. In addition to providing educational programming, Youth Speaks presents an number of both local and national youth poetry slams, festivals, and reading series' to provide a forum for young artists to be heard.
Check out the Youth Speaks YouTube page to see performances. Find them on Facebook and Tumblr. and follow them on Twitter for updates.
The Off/Page project is an offshoot of Youth Speaks and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Off/Page encourages youth to bring together serious, journalistic facts and relatable, memorable poetry. For instance, Off/Page hired young poet and activist Joshua Merchant to create a series of poetry workshops for youth in Stockton, one of the largest US cities to file for bankruptcy. While Merchant led the workshops and taught young people in Stockton how to use poetry and spoken word to express their lives, the journalistic wing researched statistics and facts about Stockton. The young poets were then able to combine this research with their poetry to create powerful political statements about life in a failing city.