Meeting WNBA heroes inspires poetry from young female athletes
Women show up for one another. They cheer in the stands. They make jokes, split massive bags of popcorn and nachos. They take endless selfies. They dance. They rock when the beat drops and break out new moves when it counts. They show up for basketball games, poetry slams, gigs and gatherings. They motivate and bless, encourage and bolster. They calm and soothe when it matters, and rally and instigate -- they make one another better.
This is what friendship among women looks and feels like.
We get to witness all of this at the New York Liberty vs. Phoenix Mercury game on June 4. A Liberty game is a celebration. It's a multicultural crowd of young and old descending upon Madison Square Garden. The WNBA is a reminder of what women have always been capable of -- championship.
I get the chance to watch these players work as a collective with a group of students whom I've witnessed exhibiting that same strength and companionship over the past several years.
Although not an athlete myself, I've been the director of the poetry program at the DreamYard Project in the Bronx, New York. Partnering with Global Writes, I direct the BronxWrites poetry slam program for elementary and middle school students, so I know about competition, and what it means to work hard toward something you want and something you love.
I'm here with the young girls: Eliah Yode, Aylin Almonte, Jakeema James and Latavya Hinton, who are not only the superstar poets, but are also the starting basketball players for their middle school team. They are also best friends, and it has been clear over the past few years how much they love and carry each other through every competition -- whether with words or baskets.
Our students are amped up and ready for the game. They talk about their favorite players and show off the basketballs they brought, hoping to get them signed. Throughout the game, they talk about their futures, playing college ball, getting drafted or writing a collection of poetry. They talk about the state math test they will be taking in June and their performance for the Bronx Arts Festival.
We all love watching Kiah Stokes score a career-high 23 points and Shavonte Zellous sink a 3-pointer in the third quarter. We get giddy seeing Tina Charles lead the charge for her team and new Liberty player Bria Hartley make her mark as part of the new guard.
During the game, the Liberty block and pass, hold one another up when they win -- they charge, sink, high-five, dribble and laugh. They work seamlessly as a team, and everywhere on the court you can see their admiration and love for one another.
In the locker room, our students celebrate by posing in front of the camera -- strutting and stunting with newly signed basketballs. They are 13 and 14 -- fresh, with their whole lives stretching out before them.
Young basketball-playing poets who root for one another, who celebrate and honor one another -- they are sidekicks, classmates and best friends.
When Charles, Zellous, Stokes and Hartley walk in, we are all in awe. They are just as cool and mind-blowing in person as they are on the court. They pose with the students, ask them what position they play and thank us all for being witness to their work and win.
It is clear to all of us that these women relish life together -- both on and off the court. They stand up for one another and the issues they believe in, wearing #BlackLivesMatter shirts last summer and supporting the LGBTQ community with #OrlandoUnited after the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida.
They do not shy away from what they care about -- they are not silent. They speak out, and in doing so they carry one another. Our students follow their lead, with poems about the myth of beauty and identity, and writing about where they come from. They watch the women of the New York Liberty, and they see what it means to be a proud, radiant woman, and they are stepping right up.
These poems honor their mentors. This is what they mean to them.
Ellen Hagan is a Kentucky-born writer, performer and educator. Her latest collection of poetry, "Hemisphere," was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen's performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women's Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts.
Kiah Stokes: Warrior Woman
By Jakeema James
fly down the court
like nothing else matters,
the little girls and teens
that love ball--
how women can play
showing them boys that ball
is not only for men.
Kiah Stokes drove down
the court, got that good
assist from her teammate
and made the points,
made her foul shots
like straight water. Kiah had
21 points because
her team had
them slick passes--
just good at what they do.
Jakeema James is a student at MS 328: New Millennium Business Academy in the Bronx. She is a starter for her basketball team and a BronxWrites slam poet.
Tina Charles: Rethinking the Game
By Latavya Hinton
on the courts is
a different perspective
meeting you in person--
you're a player
playing a game of
the other girls
on your team.
I've seen you play
so many times
and I like your
Focus on the courts.
Me meeting you
was very scary but
what I loved most was that
you are Funny--
a sense of humor
beyond magnificent laugher.
You made me think
in a different way.
What I mean is that my team
is never communicating, listening,
being patient enough.
Us watching your team play
Is the reason to write
my poem of leadership.
Latavya Hinton is a student at MS 328: New Millennium Business Academy in the Bronx. She is a starter for her basketball team and loves writing poetry for her slam team.
Bria Hartley: Game of Hartley
By Aylin Almonte
traded to the Liberty this year,
making a great change
to her basketball career.
drafted in the first round in 2014.
This June Sunday
With 7 points and an assist
She remained focused
On the defense
To take a win
With the team,
With her whole heart
in the game.
A player, only 5-foot-8
and this is why I play.
She understands the hustle, the courage,
it takes to play the game, to win
Seeing her play ball was
the highlight of my heart.
Aylin Almonte is a student at MS 328: New Millennium Business Academy in the Bronx. She is a starter for her basketball team, a star poet and the middle school valedictorian.
Shavonte Zellous: New Mindset
By Eliah Yode
She releases the ball
Making the net sing "Swish."
She's the composer to the orchestra behind her,
Playing for the city that never sleeps.
The rhythm is never different:
Sleep. Eat. Play. repeat.
Won ten awards for the evolution of her skills.
She expresses love to everyone around her
With just her youthful smile,
Until it's game time.
The court is her home base,
Executing any team
Who dares to march into her courts.
She can rapidly take your ankles
And give them right back to you.
Her team eliminates the thought that:
Girls can't play ball.
Eliah Yode is a student at MS 328: New Millennium Business Academy in the Bronx. She is a starter for her basketball team and was a finalist in the BronxWrites Spring Slam in June.