youth slam

Though we’ve already seen Daveed Diggs on both ABC’s black-ish and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt since he left Broadway’s Hamilton last year, the first project he filmed after leaving was actually Wonder, the adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling book.

And, just like with his dual roles in Hamilton, which Diggs scored without an audition (he was in a freestyle rap group with Hamilton director Tommy Kail and a little nobody named Lin-Manuel Miranda), Diggs also got the part of Wonder in a slightly unconventional way. “There was no time for me to tape or audition or anything — they needed to cast the thing!” he recalls. So, on a bright, sunny day in the summer of 2016, during his last week on Broadway, Diggs took a Skype call with Wonder director Stephen Chbosky from the roof of the Richard Rodgers theater.

“We had this great conversation, and they decided they would cast me,” Diggs explains. “I had read the screenplay, and it was great. It was so sweet but it wasn’t saccharine at all. It felt so good: The way the kids were written was so good, so honest. I was excited to be around it.”

What happened next was a whirlwind: He finished Hamilton on a Friday, took an early morning train to Washington, D.C. to co-host the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam on Saturday, then hopped on a 5 a.m. flight to Vancouver to start shooting Wonder alongside such illustrious costars as Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. “Then I’m on set the next with Jacob Tremblay, who’s like, Laurence Olivier in a 12-year-old’s body,” he laughs. “It’s crazy!”

Daveed Diggs explains how he got his role in Wonder


…And by that I mean I give so much of a fuck,
That the fuck I give consumes me.
Like a huge, man-eating wildebeest of a fuck,
Or a school of thousands of tiny piranha fucks.

I care so annoyingly much.
But getting the jitters means you give a shit.
Scared is just cared with a lisp.
—  Go Big, Young Friends by George Watsky

When I was a kid my Mum worked at a book warehouse and she was allowed to take home books that were damaged or unwanted and, let’s be honest, parents don’t really buy their kids poetry books so I had a hell of a lot of them. Because of this I wrote poetry from a very young age. The oldest poem I have of mine was written when I was four, I still have the original copy. But I have a hazy recollection of writing others before it, safe to say, poetry has lived in me for a very long time.

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and read, and read, and read, and when the warehouse closed and I didn’t get anymore poetry books (because poetry books are expensive in comparison to other books), I re-read the ones I had until I could recite them, the spines were cracked, the pages were full of post-it-notes, torn into strips, marking what must have been almost every page. One day one of my favourite poets, Paul Cookson, came to the library next to my primary school. I had brought my copy of “The Very Best of Paul Cookson” with me and I got him to sign it, he seemed surprised that it was my copy and not a library book (possibly because it was so beaten up from reading) and I told him I wanted to be a poet. He was the first adult in my life to really encourage me towards that most unlikely of careers, and I kept that book by my bed for years. I’ve still got a lot of his others, but that signed copy has vanished now. I can still describe the cover though, light blue, with a fish on it. 

Because of this encounter I kept writing, until, when I was in year six, my teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to be a poet, and he, a mean, proud man, one of those teachers that gave you the feeling that they never really wanted to teach children, told me that it was a “stupid and childish idea”. So, slowly, I stopped, my words running out.

Then, years later, in high school, we got asked to write a poem in class. So I did. And apparently it was quite good, because after that one of my teachers Rachel Hendra, took a keen interest in my work, and when, one day, I told her that I was stuck in a rut of rhyming, that I couldn’t write in free verse, she brought in her own personal copies of Ted Hughes’ “Birthday Letters” and “Crow”, and told me two things: One: They were incredible, and Two: If I touched the post-it notes, sprinkled liberally throughout the books, she would kill me. I read Birthday Letters in one amazing day. And then over the weekend I read it again. When I gave it back the post-its were still in place, my words had returned, and my understanding of poetry was forever changed.

That summer I was working at a festival, and I wandered to the poetry stage in the evening. It was the first time I had ever seen poetry performed and I was entranced. And then Joelle Taylor walked on stage and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. 

A few years, passed, I came out as Transgender, I struggled, and poured my struggle into the poetry, and kept writing. My hero, Anthony Head read my poetry, cried, read it again, and liked it so much that he agreed to write the foreword to my first book, and he was kinder and more encouraging than you can ever imagine.  Then, a few years, a lot of events, and a stupid amount of poetry open mic’s (which Hendra and a few other teachers would turn up to in order to -kindly- heckle me) after I had first seen her Joelle came to my hometown. The organiser of the gig asked me if I would perform as her support act, and of course I agreed. After my performance she asked me to apply for Slambassadors, the UK’s biggest youth poetry slam, and I was a winner. I sent a photo of my trophy to Anthony and he posted it all over his social media, he was so excited for me, more excited than any adult in my life had ever been about any award that I had ever won. 

When I was a kid I was always told to be something normal, something boring, something… less. I fought my way up. Past the expectations placed upon me. When I was young I was just a young carer. A trouble maker. I was the kid from the failing school, who got into fights, was excluded from school, the kid who always scrounged food from others, whose parents drank too much, whose grades never quite lived up to expectations, who wouldn’t ever, quite, allow themselves to be fitted into the boxes laid out for them.

Now I’m twenty. I’m the first member of my family to go to university. I have two solo poetry collections that have sold to fourteen different countries. I have won a national poetry award, and performed in the final of the Roundhouse slam. I am following my dreams, and doing what I was told by so many was impossible, because some people, these people, told me that it WAS possible, that the stars were within my reach, and thanks to them I am dedicating my life to reaching them.


This always makes me smile

“To my future children, eat your vegetables. Cry whenever you feel like it. Don’t let another kid tell you not to wear orange because it makes you look fat. Look fat if you fucking want to. Fat is a concept not a reality. Don’t swear. Don’t swear unless you fucking have to. Talk to animals. I will teach you how to speak to most birds, dogs, cats, and some rodents and reptiles the rest we can figure out together. Train your pokemon well. Have a well balanced team, it’ll teach to be well balanced in life. Do gymnastics, that helps with balance too. Eat your steak. Become a vegetarian if you want to but I’ll keep telling you steak is a vegetable because it is. Think about it, its like 99 percent grass. 

  Colour outside the lines and use the wrong colours. Brown teddy bears are so 1980s. Learn how to learn. Don’t learn the right answers. I wish I wrote this poem in kindergarten. Read books and play video games. They both teach you valuable things in life that you will not get anywhere else. Like how to conjure a helicopter out of mid air. Don’t be afraid to miss being a kid. I started missing it when I turned 10 and I still miss it at 21.

  Don’t be afraid to hit back. the consequences of a bureaucratic school system are nothing compared to the consequences of not learning how to assert no as early as possible. Your first word will be no. Beg me for a dog, even if we already have 5 because I’ll say no. And you will need to learn how to take no for an answer. Plead. stomp your feet. Get angry. Because learning how to say no and take no for an answer will be the two best things I can teach you in life. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Never buy vogue, people or Chanel magazines. These are the only things i may disown you for.

  Hug me. Don’t be afraid to ask me for love even if you feel like your too cool to want it. Hug me when your four. Hug me when your seventeen. hug me when your 22. Hug me when you feel like you might not love me anymore because I don’t even know you yet but i know I’ll love you forever which is longer than I’ll be around for. Never bleach your hair with actual bleach. Never throw away your childhood toys they may be all you have when your sobbing that your best friend ditched you for the cool kids. Be a cool kid. Be popular and bring everyone up to your level.

 Believe in yourself and everyone around you. Never ever ever let anyone tell you your stupid. Never believe that you are stupid. Never let anyone say that you are stupid. You are only a single celled egg living in mine or somebody elses ovaries right now but you are fucking brilliant. Don’t be afraid to cry infront of me and I will try my best to cry infront of you. Eat your fucking vegetables. except for brussel sprouts. Broccoli tastes better if you steam it. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be afraid to hold a grudge but don’t be to callus to resolve it.

 Love your friends, love your enemies. Love everyone and anyone you set your eyes on. Fall in love with your eyes closed because that’s the damn best way to see how truly beautiful someone is.

Don’t have your heart broken. Have it smashed. Have it destroyed. Your heart should look like a post apocalyptic landscape at least once in your lifetime. Learn from it and remember what I said about grudges.

Don’t be afraid to sing. Be afraid of high heels and platform shoes. Learn either an instrument, a language, or a trade or all three. Intelligence is way more sexy than knowing how to swagger. Never, ever. ever, utter the word yolo in my house. Question everything you thought you knew about life regularly. Look at motivational pictures. Drink for taste. Don’t do drugs, alone. Eat a bunch of ice cream, twice, if you’ve got the money for it.

Don’t be afraid to be poor. Don’t be afraid. You will always be enough. "    -”To My Future Children" A slam poem by Scout.


2016 - Brave New Voices - Grand Slam Finals: Daveed Diggs

600 young people from across the world take center stage at the 19th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival for a week of workshops, poetry slam, performances, and civic engagement from July 12 – 16, 2016 in Washington, D.C. This year’s festival theme takes it’s inspiration from Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” redefining what it means to be American in the 21st Century. Powered by Youth Speaks.

When I say “shoot,” you say, “shoot
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

Got a world wonderin’ when it’s all gonna burn
Warnings are warm as the block is getting hot as a perm
Get it straight
My n*ggas ain’t waitin’ for turns
It’s time to take it
Our place in the line ain’t a concern

We trace our lines to the ‘80’s where they threw out the razors
Cuttin’ the white on the table was for ballers and players
Our parents, still in the hustle, burnt the rock into vapors
So hard demeanors when '80’s babies gas on you haters

An era defined by cracks and whether to slip into 'em
We transfit it to the beat, then we eat the beats like communion
Embody these wafers, waverin’
Wave at 'em with the rillo and stay so deep in the cup
We drink blood and we call it moscato
What up, gangsta

You really wanna bang yo set?
When we rep gangs chained to tracks and swing raps like mallets?
Its arm and hammers built the ground for which these crews fight
And don’t none of us own shit, so it’s nothin’ to lose, right?

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

The cameras are rollin’ and the lights flash
The footage is golden when the nights clash
Capture it quick; we livin’ the life fast
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

Yeah, real shit, n*gga
Out here fingerin’ the kill switch
The bills kill to n*gga D.O.A.
So when the repo came and sent me Cobain

I’ve made a bed of bones of all the rappers I admire
So that even when I’m sleeping, I can still find inspiration in their fall
Cause everybody fall off
I’m at the fiscal cliff base-jumpin’ with a sawed off
Shoot all these fake fly suckas now; all’s lost anyway
So we can parlay with this molotov cocktail mixologist

Rock sales and bottom bitches
Cock fights and n*gga riches
Rock ice and tunnel vision
Eyes front; focus forward

Feed the phenom your attention
The game can change
I will father invention
Me and Ms. Necessity got a thang goin’ on
I keep fuckin’ that chick to your new style is born

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

What up
The footage is golden and the lights flash
The cameras are rolling and the nights clash
Capture it quick; we livin’ the life fast
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

And every Sunday morning we play dominoes with death
Counting spots upon the table
Slamming bones with baited breath
Knowin’ there’s not enough to build a house
The n*gga to your left has the fo-fo
Waitin’ for dem snake eyes to surface

Here surf sex, there’s sleep aid to the infinite insomnia
A whole generation awake, immune to marijuana
Cause that’s baseline and it’s nice, but the angles are never right
And we spangle the red and white
With the stars of the blues we write

I’ve been howlin’ wolf and sheepish grinning
Look beneath the beating, bleeding, seething city
See, we all been G'ing since we were teethin’
And while searching for the meanin’
Misdemeanors of the fleeing folk
Runnin’ while holdin’ still
Cup of purple posture leanin’

And poets postulate posthumous
The who, what, where, and why
But the 'how’ escapes us all
Cause our souls are too old to cry
So we bangin’ the best we can
And we doin’ it lookin’ fly
And we celebrate independence
By shootin’ guns in the sky

You seein’ this mobbin’ on your television
You can close your eyes, but you gonna have to listen
Mouthpiece is a gun; the speech is the ammunition
Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot / Shoot

At 4 a.m. Saturday, Daveed Diggs left the party celebrating his last performance in the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” threw some clothes in a bag, and jumped on a train for Washington.

A little over 12 hours later, he was at the Kennedy Center, emceeing the Brave New Voices Grand Slam Finals. “It’s not hyperbole when I say, I need this so bad right now,” he announced to deafening cheers from the audience.

The poetry slam is an annual competition for teenagers run by Youth Speaks, a nonprofit organization focused on youth education and the oral art of spoken word, or poetry recitation. This year’s event was huge, drawing more than 500 teens from all over the world. But when Youth Speaks was founded in 1996, it mostly touched kids living in the Bay Area, including one Oakland native named Daveed Diggs.

“I had to make this happen,” Diggs said in an interview before taking the stage. “They would have loved me to finish out the weekend at ‘Hamilton,’ but I wanted to do this.”


In high school, Diggs participated in poetry slams co-organized by Youth Speaks. The group’s founder and executive director, James Kass, still remembers the first time he saw Diggs perform.

“I remember the intelligent nature of his work,” Kass said. “On the stage, he was dynamic. The same energy you see in ‘Hamilton’ now, that was evident when he was a young person.”

Diggs used to write his poems 10 minutes before a show on a notecard scribbled with thoughts and arrows connecting ideas. It wasn’t until Youth Speaks that he learned how to get organized, he said, and think about structure and word choice.

“I was a very good performer, but not a great writer,” he said. “Then Youth Speaks came in, and I got to see the poets they were working with, and they started working with the poets at Berkeley High School. I became very aware that the way they were teaching writing was great.”

Shortly after, he started to write rap songs using the techniques he had learned, forming and joining multiple hip-hop groups that eventually led to his meeting “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in Miranda’s freestyle group, Freestyle Love Supreme.

After graduating from Brown University in 2004, Diggs worked for Youth Speaks as a teacher, imparting the same lessons he had absorbed when he was a budding artist.

“I was really aware, even while it was happening, that the discovery of arts education in my life sort of saved my life,” Diggs said. “As a kid, you don’t have a ton of spaces where you are honored, where what you think is honored, and what you say is revered.”


Youth Speaks’s goal, Kass said, is to create a new generation of people who will define the culture of the future — just as Diggs is doing.

“Here’s a young person we’ve known who is now one of the hottest people in American theater,” Kass said. “Now he is speaking to an entire audience of people that could be him in 15 to 20 years.”

Diggs’s appearance at the festival wasn’t entirely selfless, however. He’s been in a “Hamilton” bubble for two years, and now he needs to recharge. For that, it made sense to return to where he came from, even if he was tired from pulling an all-nighter.

“The energy in the room is crazy,” he said, laughing. “It’s crazy. Every time I come to one of these things, I’m sweating and crying and laughing and screaming. It’s been a while since I was just in a room where kids were being brilliant and honest. I need this for myself. I really wanted to make sure I had the space to come here, and be inspired, and remember what this is like.”

Watch on

because today is one of the holiest days of the year and instead of spending time with my family, I’m up on stage defending my family. because when society makes plans they don’t think about us. I wonder if an international youth poetry slam in the cultural mecca of the south would be held during Christmas, Easter… but it had to be on Eid. 


You Me At Six - Slam Dunk Festival North 2015

Loads of You Me At Six shots up on my photography page here!

Don’t forget to like my page to see more shots from the festival of other bands throughout the week! :)

The Sarcasteen Youth Awards 2013: The results!

Happy New Year Sarcasteens! It’s time to announce the winners of the Sarcasteen Youth awards 2013. The response has been excellent and far beyond what we could have hoped, with over 500 of you voting. Anyway, without further adieu, your winners.

Keep reading


Almost Heaven


My grandpa flaunts a gold tooth when he smiles 
like I dare you to take something from between my lips.
His tooth shines from the light of the TV screen
when my family watches Telemundo during dinnertime.

While I practice my Spanish, 
grandpa unhinges the English from his mouth, at least for a little while. 
This is how we both learn how to be Panamanian-American. 
Through television and food.

He tells us of our ancestors. 
How they raised maize and yucca from the earth, 
hands, steeped in indigenous soil. 
How as warriors, we drank cacao and water bitter from the gourd, 
a medicine sacred to the gods.

Between growing up in Colon, Panama and a tour in the US ARMY, 
grandpa is a proud, old soldier, marching through a never-ending war. 
At 66, we are scared that another stroke could do what no war ever could 
and cut him to the ground.

He drinks 
like Aunt Maritsa didn’t lose both her legs to diabetes last year, 
like half our neighborhood doesn’t look like the emergency ward of a hospital, 
like he hasn’t seen the pictures, how it is impossible to tell the difference 
between a road-side bomb victim and someone who forgot to take their insulin.

Grandpa keeps at least two twelve-packs of soda in the fridge at all times. 
Sunny Delight, Tampico, Hi-C, a jug of Kool-Aid in the back. 
Dr. Pepper lines our refrigerator door like a vest of dynamite. 
An arsenal of ways for us to self-detonate.

It is how you learn to drink growing up in a country, 
where soda is cheaper than clean water, 
where hunger is a canal carved deep into your belly, 
where the only options for work are the docks and the ARMY
because your country is as occupied by Coca-Cola as it is by the US military.

When you must march to the call of whatever feeds family first, 
you drink whatever fits conveniently in your hands. 
I understand, grandpa.

But don’t you know we are still at war with a country that wants us dead? 
How us children of Panama and America learn early 
to walk softly and carry a big stick 
like ARMY assault rifle in one hand, 
Coca-Cola bottle in the other.

Our country wasn’t enough, 
they are colonizing our bodies, our taste buds. 
It isn’t a coincidence that the military and beverage companies call us their target audience, 
our black and brown bodies marching to the center of their crosshairs.

At home, a Coca-Cola commercial followed by a US ARMY commercial 
flickers across my grandfather’s tooth 
and they both shine like the discharge of a gun.

I learned to drink like grandpa, 
like Colon, Panama. 
I learned to drink like 14 billion dollars 
spent on soft drink advertising last year.

The threat of diabetes is as common in our family 
as hard work, obedience and discipline. 
It is as common as Coca-Cola in our refrigerator. 
And we drink until the glass is empty. 
We ain’t never learned how to pull maize from the soil 
but we did learn to pull the tab of a Coke can. 
Don’t it sound like the linchpin of a grenade? 
Both explode under pressure. 
Ain’t we just time bombs then?

We march until they cut the legs out from under us. 
Ain’t we perfect soldiers?  

- poem Gabriel Cortez

film directed by Jamie DeWolf


Last summer before writing anything, Slam Richmond youth studied and discussed Patricia Smith’s collection Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah and Sierra DeMulder’s The Bones Below. After months of intensive practices with our coaches John Survivor Blake and Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez, we got in the car and DROVE across country to Brave New Voices in the Bay Area. En route, they did feature sets at various venues across the country and met writers like Jesse Parent, Sean Patrick Mulroy, and Marty McConnell!

Tonight, we invite all youth ages 13-19 to slam for a spot on our youth team. There is a free writing workshop at 5p and the open mic and slam lists open at 8pm closing promptly at 8:30p.

Call John Survivor Blake at (804) 477-4696 should you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you there.