Meet Downtown College Prep's Slam Poets

November 28, 2012
By Lisa Hewitt

“Slam poetry, for me is a just another means of expression. We all have different ways of expressing ourselves and this is how we choose to.”- Carlos Nolasco

Beginning just over a year ago, the slam poetry group at Downtown College Preparatory (DCP) in San Jose, California, has a unique weekly gathering. In a classroom surrounded by posters breaking down Spanish verbs and maps of Spain, they write and perform poetry for each other. I met with a few regulars in Michael Bower’s classroom: Gabriel Orozco, Naila Cazares, Jose Luna, Angel Barragan, Amanda Pea, and Carlos Nolasco. They all agreed the group is a positive influence in their lives and provides a platform to speak their minds. Naila, a sophomore, explains, “Poetry’s not just about rhyming; it’s about expressing yourself and what you see around you.” Amanda, a sophomore, adds, “I come to poetry and I can…just say it. And [the group members] tell me how they feel about it. And they’ll tell me the truth and that’s basically what spoken word is, the truth. It’s different truths…coming together and unifying us.”

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Bower grew up surrounded by Hip Hop, but it wasn’t until college and with the encouragement of his roommate he started performing poetry. Coming to San Jose in Fall 2011 with Teach for America, Mr. Bower decided to perform a piece of poetry for the DCP administration, teachers, staff and the students. “In the beginning I got up in front of assembly, and I said ‘I’m going to start a poetry group. I’m from Brooklyn, I love Hip Hop; just come if you want to express yourself.’ And I got some kids who were really talented and really passionate about it and then it just grew.” Angel, a senior, explains, “He’s our Spanish teacher and I’ve never thought about Bower as a slam poet/rapper of anything. And one day he presents us one of his pieces and it was really awesome, I liked it. So then…I decided to join slam poetry.”

The poetry group is a unique setting amongst the normal high school experience; they don’t have to edit what they say or how they communicate. For Gabriel it’s about giving voice to the underrepresented, “What I mainly write about is how I’ve gone through this really hard struggle in my life. I might not look it on the outside because I’m skinny and tall but on the inside I’m Hercules when it comes to problems. I want to be a voice for everyone who has struggles in their life, who’s grown up in the ghetto, the projects whatever you want to call it, because those people are what really drive me to become great.”

The first time the DCP group performed together was at San Jose State University on October 24, 2012, an event sponsored by the Cesar Chaves Community Action Center and KQED. Though some students have performed their poetry in the past, for others this was the first time they’ve shared it in a public venue. After the performance, Mr. Bower explains, “[The group members] got in the van and they started talking about how we’re all a family. That was cool and a very touching moment for sure. Many of them don’t have a place for expression and many don’t have a place where people listen to them. So when they have both at the same time and they can talk about their deepest feelings, I think they really value that.”

If you’re interested in learning more, please visit Downtown College Prep’s website:

View Selected Poems

Meet Downtown College Prep's Slam Poets 28 November,2012ymartinez

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