Arts & Entertainment

Arcadia Poetry Slam Tackles Social Issues

By May S. Ruiz

Arcadia High School students will call attention to social issues, including poverty and homelessness, at the Arcadia Poetry Slam which will be held at 2:00 pm on Sunday, April 29, at the Arcadia Performing Arts Center (APAC).

To benefit Foothill Unity Center, it will also serve as a launching ground for students to get their voices heard. Whitney La Barge, assistant general manager of APAC, coordinates the event with Arcadia High School.

“We want to bring more students into the space,” says La Barge. “Right now we do orchestra, band concerts, dance and theatre shows. Arcadia Poetry Slam gives other students, who wouldn’t otherwise have, the chance to be a part of the center as well as the foundation.”

Anthony Sigman-Lowery, APAC operations manager, says further, “This will be the inaugural Poetry Slam and it’s meant to encourage students to use their voices through poetry. We have a black box with 99 seats: it’s a small intimate environment for students who may have stage fright.  What better way to bring students who might not normally be performing here.”

La Barge expounds, “We announced the competition at AHS in mid-March and we’re giving preference to seniors since it’s their last opportunity to do it. We’re also limiting it to 30 students. It’s pretty open in terms of format because we want them to express their creativity. The only restrictions we have are that it is under five minutes long and it has to be school-appropriate so it can’t glorify violence, guns, or drugs. As it is benefiting Foothill Unity Center we’re encouraging students to touch on social issues like homelessness and poverty.”

To get student participation from neighboring schools, La Barge reached out to the English and Drama department teachers and shared the event poster with them.

“It’s an invitational and we’re hoping that each year we’ll have more and more schools involved,” La Barge states. “We definitely want AHS to be well represented because obviously we’re here on campus and we want to serve the school district. As it’s our first time, we’re keeping it small but we eventually want to turn it into an all-day competition.”

“We really wanted to hold this but we don’t know how to judge a poem,” relates Sigman-Lowery. “How do we keep it school appropriate without restricting people’s voices? So we partnered with L.A. Poets Society. They gave us the components by which the poems will be judged – content, stage performance, voice, and diction.”

La Barge adds, “We also asked for a statement from each poet of what they’re trying to accomplish with the piece, what they’re trying to say. The judges will then pick three poets who best accomplished their goal, whose messages came across effectively. For prizes, we’re giving away Beats wireless headphones courtesy of Beats. L.A. Poets Society will award writing journals and feature them in their website under the New Poet Section.”

Arcadia Performing Arts Center. Courtesy photo

APAC and Foothill Unity Center have been community partners for a while according to Sigman-Lowery. He explains, “We started working with Foothill Unity Center with our Sunday with Santa event in December. We collected canned goods and to encourage people to donate,  each can served as a raffle ticket to win prizes. We liked working with them and we figured it was a good way of serving the Arcadia community since one of the big goals of the foundation is making art accessible.”

Raina Martinez, Foothill Unity Center’s development and donor relations director, confirms, “APAC’s executive director, Maki Hsieh, wanted to come up with a way to support the center as well as get the community involved, especially the youth. And poetry is popular with young people and is a great way to get their voice out there. We’re making it the thematic concept to incorporate poverty, hunger, and homelessness to bring more awareness about the center and, more importantly, about the issues.

“Our two sites – Pasadena and Monrovia – serve eleven cities in the San Gabriel Valley offering food, temporary shelter, case management, transportation, and vital health services for low income and homeless people. Additionally, we offer job training skills for youth and adults, and an internship program. We have an AmeriCorps program on the site where they can get clerical and warehouse type skills.

“One of the things we do well is developing partnerships. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we work with other agencies. We connect our clients with other organizations who can provide them assistance. Donations come from everyone in the community – individuals, businesses, churches. It’s neighbors helping neighbors. And volunteers are a big component of our organization – we couldn’t do this without them. Last year we had 40,000 volunteer hours.

“We have two major events during the year. In addition to the regular food services we provide, we have thanksgiving boxes and the Christmas holiday distribution food boxes. For all registered children we have the Holiday Angel program that provides toys and gift items, and a popular Back-to-School event which we do at the Santa Anita Race Track in August. Children from kindergarten through college receive backpacks, school supplies, socks, clothing, haircuts, manicure, health screenings – everything they need to get them ready for school.”

Since its founding in 1980, Foothill Unity Center has remained the primary provider of food, case management/crisis help, and access to healthcare resources for people who are at or below the national poverty level. Each day it lives up to its mission ‘Helping People. Changing Lives.’

Through the Arcadia Poetry Slam local students will bring attention to Foothill Unity Center and  the most pressing problems affecting the lives of those around us. It is art galvanizing social activism.

April 3, 2018

About Author

May S. Ruiz May S. Ruiz was born in the Philippines. Her mother, a school teacher, and her father, the press liaison officer for American Embassy in Manila, instilled in their children the importance of getting a good education. Appreciation for book and the arts, and experiencing various cultures have been her lifelong pursuits. After college she immigrated to the U.S., where she met her husband. Their daughter have the same passion for learning and literature, and being a responsible global citizen.


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