Spoken Word Poetry Club

By Jessica Militello

The spring of 2017 marks over 10 years of the Spoken Word Poetry Club at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. The club is an afterschool program that gives students a voice and a creative outlet. It is something the club’s creator, Ricky Quintana feels is vital for youths growing up in the Bronx.

“There are so many voiceless around us every day who yearn to spill out their minds and hearts, but they have either been shunned or disregarded by their communities (and even their own homes),” he said. Bronx youth grapple with a number of problems such as a higher number of teen pregnancies.

Quintana has been teaching at Spellman for the past 15 years by day and DJing and fronting for his band “The During” by night. In addition to the Spoken Word Poetry Club, Quintana has also taught DJing to middle school and high school students for about 10 years. He is currently in his second year teaching DJing to 6th-8th graders at PS/MS 95 in the Bronx. Fittingly, his artist name is MENYU, as he certainly has quite an array of talent to offer. “At 10 years old, I learned how to DJ, beatbox, and draw” he said. “However, it was not until my freshmen year at Fordham University where I actually started writing poetry.”

Ricky Quintana

Quintana manages to balance his teaching career with his artistry, which he attributes to his survival growing up. “Art rescued me from the shackles of the ghetto,” he said. “Growing up in the ’80s South Bronx during the rise of hip hop culture, I was exposed to so much negativity that made us conform to its craziness. However, we all needed something to both distract and inspire us. I wanted to give my students this opening for them to express themselves in their own lyrical and vocal way (since the other clubs didn’t have that outlet available to them). I wanted to give them something that I would’ve wanted at their age.”

The Spoken Word Poetry Club started with seven official members, with the number increasing each year. There have been as many as 60 members during a single school year. Stricter standards for school curriculum like the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 meant that schools offered more math and science, and art courses were seen as more of a hobby, than an essential tool for education.

Students do still have the right to advocate for more art and culture in their school by building interest and gathering a large group, which is exactly what the students at Cardinal Spellman did. Over 100 students at the school signed a petition showing interest in the club, and the school’s administration approved the idea. It is now over a decade since the club was first started and it is as popular as ever.

The club is not just an outlet or a chance to share spoken word. While many enjoy the opportunity to get better at performing in front of an audience and perfect their craft, other students have found it to be a doorway to opportunities in artistic careers, and have earned scholarships to their universities after graduating from high school. Others continued performing outside of Spellman, self-published their own books or started their own Spoken Word Poetry Club in their universities. One student wrote and directed her own screenplay which was performed twice in Harlem.

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