4. Elizabeth Acevedo: Carving Her Name on the Wind

I stood, arms folded, beside thirty kids ready to be picked up by their parents from school that day. Still, through the dimly lit classroom, their eyes and mine were glued to a screen, watching spoken word poet Elizabeth Acevedo take the stage a year prior.

“Some young men possess disjointed psyches / makes them destroy our discs and joints with swollen fists and coveted Nikes,” Acevedo begins her piece.

Acevedo’s performance transcended the TEDxMidAtlantic venue and breathed life beyond the viral video stockpile of YouTube. Somehow, as we witnessed her performance, she stepped into the classroom with us and the boisterous class of teens fell silent at the sound of her voice. Like a rollercoaster, together we rode on the journey with her and with the girl she spoke of - a victim of physicalsexual and psychological violence.

“I want you to tell me this is the last poem I will EVER write about a girl who danced with the night in her palm,” Acevedo concludes in her opening piece.

The spoken word performer shares with her captive audiences, “I wrote that poem ten years ago, after learning that a high school classmate had been brutally murdered by her boyfriend. That last question, 'is this the last poem I will write about a girl like you?’ haunts my work."

She reflects, "The last ten years, I keep writing about violence against women… my work can not get away from it. I think it’s partly because I know that poetry can immortalize a topic and, so often, when violence against women happens, it’s a quick hashtag or a short byline and then the names and the stories are forgotten."

Acevedo gives context to her perspective, living as a future mother to children, possibly even a daughter.

That day, in that one classroom, as her talk concluded and the lights went on again, the room of teenagers responded with snapping fingers, showing respect and understanding.

For me, in the midst of a rape culture workshop, the first of its kind for these young students, that was the important moment. The stories Elizabeth Acevedo spread through the rhythm of her words began to make an impression on them.

Beyond the classroom, Acevedo's words have similar impact as she crafts equally beautiful and stirring tales with her words and stuns live audiences and readers alike, whether through widely-shared works like Spear and Hair or through her book, Beast Girl & Other Origin Myths. She proves that art has the power to change the world. Through her art, when Acevedo chooses to express herself, people listen, hearing a tale that needs to be heard.

Matthew Scott