Slammed in Vegas

Abdur-Rasheed and Kelley participate in poetry festival


Rebekkah Leigh LaBlue (@rllablue)

Janay Kelley (12) recites one of three different poems during a specific BNVF event. The events include group, individual and lightning round (around 90 seconds).

Ninety seconds to beat the clock. Ninety seconds to share your story. Ninety seconds to represent your city. Ninety seconds to speak your wordー it’s the lightning round of the Brave New Voices Festival (BNVF). 

Through a series of slam-auditions, Janay Kelley (12) and Nadifah Abdur-Rasheed (12) joined the Memphis poetry team and flew to Las Vegas for the July 2019 BNVF, an international youth poetry slam festival.

“We go to various workshops… [that] don’t always deal with poetry,” Kelley said. “A lot of the time, it’s about youth activism,… media coverage and one was even about community service.”

According to the BNV’s homepage, the festival promotes “arts education, artistic expression and civic engagement” by encouraging participants to network not only in workshops and outings but also in the vulnerability of sharing.

“Being a spoken-word artist, you’re already letting out so much vulnerability… hence the name ‘Brave,’” Abdur-Rasheed said. “You’re using your voice to speak your truth, and you’re going to hear other people use their voice to speak their truth.” 

However, winning is not the driving force behind these two’s participationー representation of their culture, city and mental state are. 

“Poetry is so subjective,” Kelley said. “It doesn’t always have to be emotionally draining… you can give yourself wiggle room to breathe…, but it can be an outlet for that type of negative emotion… for you to be able to breathe.”