Slam poetry group celebrates diversity


Madison Doucette

Hawa Adam, Lena Ginawi, Kiran Waqar, Balkisa Abdikadir

The crowd that sat in Stearns Performance Space on Sept. 13 was small, yet as the four girls on stage finished their performance, the applause was nothing but loud. Muslim Girls Making Change is a slam poetry group created by four Vermont high schoolers: Hawa Adam, Kiran Waqar, Lena Ginawi and Balkisa Abdikadir.


With guidance from the Young Writers Project, the group has traveled throughout Vermont, using only their words to combat stereotypes and create a platform for youth and women of color.


With smiling faces and welcoming demeanors, the four girls stepped up to the microphones and sunk immediately into their stage personas, beginning the show with a poem titled “Welcome.”


As they moved through the performance, they used the volume and force of their voices to create intricate stories. In “Woman’s World,” they spoke of the frustrations of sexism, working their words into a crescendo, then dropping their voices to a slower, quieter tone as they spoke: “Is this what it means to be a real woman?”


A moment of silence followed, allowing the line to resonate throughout the room.


The poems they performed, which drew from their own experience as Muslim American teenagers, discussed issues of race, sexism, family and youth, and were engaging and relatable.


In their poem “Teenage Odyssey,” they talked about the pressures of high school and college applications and the struggle to remain true to themselves. “Our parents say one thing, society says another, and in the midst of all of this, we lose ourselves,” they recited. “We conform to the perfect applicant, our test scores determine our self-worth, our GPA is our ticket to opportunity, our extracurriculars are the cherry on top.”


Ashley Cormier, who is a JSC graduate, current master’s student and records specialist at the college, discovered the group during a project for her Critical and Cultural Diversity in Education class. After seeing them perform at Champlain College, she knew she had to get them to JSC, as she felt they would be a perfect fit for the Creative Audience course.


“They’re your typical teenagers, and that’s the important thing that they want to share when they go travel and do the slam poetry,” said Cormier. “Yes, they dress conservatively and they wear hijab, but they’re American teenagers.”


The audience seemed to feel the same. There was a constant flow of head nods and finger snapping — the proper way to show agreement and encouragement during a slam performance — and questions flowed easily and comfortably from students during the Q&A.


One student commented on how writing solo poetry is difficult enough, so writing with four people seems almost impossible. Adam explained their creative process. “It’s very organic and flexible and like through faith in everything, it just kind of like happens at its own pace,” she said. “Honestly, ‘Teenage Odyssey’ was written over Panera Bread when we were venting about college applications.”


The rest of the group agreed, with Ginawi commenting, “Essentially I feel like it starts off with conversations that we’ve had with each other.” And, according to Waqar, a lot of their poems come out of complaining and frustration. The group seems to enjoy the venting process of writing just as much as they enjoy performing the poems.


The group was formed in March 2016 when Adam saw a poster in school for an open mic hosted by the Young Writers Project (YWP) that said they would send one team to Brave New Voices, an international poetry competition in Washington, D.C.


Recognizing the potential for this medium to provide an outlet for their frustrations and a way to create social justice and change, Adam quickly told her friends. “We ended up writing a poem within February break week and performing it at the open mic,” she said. That poem, titled “Wake Up, America,” would become the first of many to be performed by the group.


The group continues to travel around Vermont, working around the busy schedules of the members as they apply to colleges and attend school, yet their commitment to creating an accessible platform for the Muslim and colored youth of America to express themselves does not stop there.


“Here with us today is Young Writers Project and we have been doing a little bit of collaboration work with them,” said Adam. “We recently got a $90,000 grant to facilitate conversations between Muslims and non-Muslims and really get youth involved through art and whatever medium that they choose.”


Muslim Girls Making Change is an incredible group who write inspiring, creative, and approachable poems. Their performance was entertaining, as well as engaging, and I encourage all youth, especially those of college age, to see them perform.