Youth Speaks at 20: Still bringing the noise

Mar 24, 2016

Twenty years ago, writer and educator James Kass was in graduate school at San Francisco State University. He had a small idea: a writing workshop for city teens.

Kass felt that youth, especially youth of color, were being misunderstood by the larger culture, and he wanted to give them an outlet to speak for themselves. He had no idea how big that idea would get.

Today, his organization Youth Speaks serves about 200,000 young people nationwide every year. Programs range from the original poetry writing and performance workshops to theater productions and partnerships with investigative journalists. Their signature event is the Bay Area teen poetry slam: an Olympic-style competition leading up to a Grand Slam at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

KALW's Jen Chien spoke with founder and executive director James Kass and Brandon Santiago, a Youth Speaks alum and teacher. Semifinals for the 20th annual Youth Speaks teen poetry slam are on now, in San Francisco and Oakland. The final showdown will be Saturday, April 16th, at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.