Congratulations on the success with your foundation “Get Lit”, please tell us more about the what Get Lit is, does/ is?
Get Lit-Words Ignite has been using poetry to transform classrooms in Southern California since 2006. Over 10,000 students graduate from its award winning standards aligned English curriculum each year, and now with her creation of Uni(verse) the world’s first online poetry platform for the classroom, millions more will be served.For 16 years, Get Lit has met youth where they are, both physically and developmentally, giving them a straightforward, step-by-step entry into literacy and self-expression, and helping to remove barriers to learning and success. The results speak for themselves. Graduating Get Lit Poets have become Youth Poet Laureates, over 75% receive scholarships to college, they have performed at the White House 3 Times, been honored by the Library of Congress, have published books with Simon & Schuster, written films that have opened Sundance, performed on Broadway, won Fulbright Scholarships, won Grammys, and their videos have been watched over 300 million times.
Youth need to study great work, they need an outlet to speak and they need to know that someone is listening. Youth voices and youth stories are at the center of Get Lit’s curriculum in which students claim classic/contemporary poems that resonate with their hopes, dreams, and life experiences, then pen their own spoken word response poems, placing them in dialogue with the greatest poets and thinkers in history. Uni(verse) enlivens Get Lit’s curriculum online, and will allow millions more students to gain access to this curriculum across the country and all over the world.
We envision a world where all young people have access to the greatest writers and thinkers that human history has to offer, and will be heard and transformed academically and emotionally by being bonded to and part of this continuum. We visualize an exciting, equitable education system that inspires students to launch into their own curiosity, conversations, and excellence. And we are so proud to be on the forefront of creating this.
What year did you start foundation?
What inspired you to create it?
I wanted to provide some excitement and motivation for students who were taking the Get Lit curriculum in school. And I wanted to bring students from different school systems and worlds together.
Was starting a non-profit something you always wanted to do?
No, I never even considered it. It was something that happened organically as I figured out how to get my literacy program into schools. I had a fiscal sponsor for the first three years until I figured out how to create a nonprofit of my own.
April is National Poetry month, and you have the Classic Slam Event coming up, can you tell us a bit about this?
We have hosted the Classic Slam in April (National Poetry Month) since 2012. We want to provide an opportunity for young people to celebrate great poets by claiming a poem from our curated Classic Slam anthology, and then memorizing and performing their words – alongside their own spoken word response poems. This way we get to hear the best classic and contemporary poems in history, alongside students’ own work. It’s incredible.
How many years have you been holding the classic slam?
Has it changed over the years?
We started with 18 schools and over the past 11 years it has grown to be over 60 schools competing. The past two years have been virtual, so this is our first year back in person.
How do you prepare for it?
Get Lit is either a supplemental 12 week in school program or a full semester or full year English course. Students are taught the Get Lit curriculum in school by their English teachers (it satisfies A-G requirements). Over 10,000 students graduate from the program each year. Then schools host in school Poetry competitions to determine the top 6 scoring poets who will represent their school at the Classic Slam.
How many kids/ schools participate in the Classic Slam? What age group participates?
We have Classic Slam for middle school age students 11-13 and for high school students 14-18, generally. Over 300 students compete each year.
Are they all local from Los Angeles or can kids participate from around the nation/ world?
Most of the students are from Southern California, but some do fly in from other parts of the country as well.
What happens at a Classic Slam?
It spans 3 days and it is the largest youth festival/competition in Los Angeles and one of the largest teen poetry slams in the world. Most years over 1,000 students bus to the LATC Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Why did Get Lit start holding a Classic Slam? Are there other things like this around the Los Angeles area?
The Classic Slam is the only thing like it in the nation. Our arts kids don’t get celebrated enough. Not publicly. One of the English teachers, Mr. Moreno said it best. He said, I watched our school’s football players playing under the lights – I thought, we need a reason to celebrate and get all of our students under the lights. The Classic Slam provides over $10,000 of cash awards and prizes. It celebrates the work of our amazing teachers (who are also coaches of their teams) and students. It is the highlight of the year for so many schools in Los Angeles.
How can kids get involved with the Classic Slam? And Get Lit overall?
All they need to do is email [email protected] and/or go to getlit.org to see all of our offerings!
How long do the kids prepare in order to perform?
They prepare anywhere from one month to all year!
Can anyone participate in the Classic Slam? Is there a fee? A way to sign up?
There is no fee. They just have to take the Get Lit course first. They can also come weekly to our free Get Lit Saturday workshops and then try out for our Scratch team. Class is held at the Get Lit office in Koreatown.
Can anyone watch the Classic Slam? If so, how?
Yes. They can reach out to [email protected] for tickets (they will sell out) and it is also streaming at classicslam.org.
How has Get Lit changed your life?
It is my way of paying tribute to all of the great writers and also bringing opportunities to incredible youth and teachers. I feel so fortunate.
How do you select the winners at the event?
5 amazing judges select the winner. See media kit for more information.
What is the most challenging part of running your own non-profit?
It is a lot of work! There are many moving parts.
Can you give any advice to someone who might be interested in starting a foundation?
Set up a meeting with someone who runs an organization you admire. They will have some good advice.
I heard that some of the poets from Get Lit have now starred in films? How did that happen? Is this something you want to do more of with the kids in the program?
Yes, we have a partnership with the Writers Guild. Many of our Poets are writing films. Our Poets wrote and starred in the feature film Summertime, and are featured in the documentary film Our Words Collide.
What is the most beneficial thing that Get Lit provides to youth?
It gives them opportunities to be listened to and shine. It also creates community.
How has poetry changed your life, and how does it change the lives of those in the Get Lit program?
Great poems are magical doorways that open portals to new worlds. Literally.
Can anyone write poetry? Are there any tips you can provide for someone just starting?
Yes! Just start writing, notice details, be specific. Jot it all down.
What are you working on next?
The launch of our English/Ethnic Studies Curriculums and online poetry platform Uni(verse).
How can fans follow you? How can they watch the Classic Slam?
Go to classicslam.org and go to @getlitpoet