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Youth Speaks: Still bringing the noise

More than 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.  

KALW's Jen Chien spoke with founder and executive director James Kass and Brandon Santiago, a Youth Speaks alum and teacher. Kass has announced that this will be his last year leading the organization. 

KASS: We don't censor young people but we challenge them. And I think that's a really important part of our pedagogy as well. Even we talk about safe spaces to challenge them to find their voice.

Starting Thursday, July 20th, the international youth poetry slam festival Brave New Voices comes to the Bay Area with three days of workshops, town halls, and poetry slams in Oakland and Berkeley. The Grand Slam takes place Saturday, July 22nd at the San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House.

This story originally aired in 2016.

Crosscurrents poetry
Jen Chien was the managing editor for Crosscurrents and KALW News from 2016 to 2018. She has been a contributor to All Things Considered, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, BBC/PRI’s The World, Making Contact, SF Public Press, East Bay Express, New America Media, and KPFA in Berkeley, where she took part in the First Voice Apprenticeship Program. She is the recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Emerging Journalist Award from the Society of Professional Journalists of Northern California. She holds a BA in American Studies from Smith College, and an MA in Interdisciplinary Performance from New College of California. Before entering the field of journalism, she had a successful career as a professional dance and theater artist, teacher, and massage therapist.