Youth Spoken Word
Youth energized at East side’s new Urban Arts event
“The goals are to offer education and speaking opportunities in spoken word to youth and others in our community,” Mishur said about the new program. “We
want to develop a ‘cipher,’ which is a caring community of energy and respect (focused on) urban arts. The values are love and inclusion.”
Mishur, a self-described “70-year-old White woman” with a background in social work and family counseling, is admittedly still getting schooled on the ins-and-
outs of hip-hop and urban arts. Although new to her, she contends it is a “vibrant and exciting worldwide cultural expression” where she has found community
and acceptance. She was first inspired to tackle the area of urban arts and bring it to area youth after attending a workshop at UW-Madison.
“I attended a teacher’s institute for a week last summer called ‘Hip Hop in Education,’” she said. “There were 50 teachers from all over the world using Urban Arts
in educational settings. It was fabulous.”
Mishur eventually asked for volunteers to help her bring a spoken word program to the East Madison Community Center and was rewarded with the help of
First Wave scholars Danez Smith and Kelsey VanErt, who she refers to as her mentors.
Smith and VanErt are scholars in a cutting-edge program at UW-Madison called The First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community. Beginning in
the fall of 2007, the program brings together young urban artists and leaders from across the nation, offering them the opportunity to live, study, and create
together at UW-Madison while receiving guidance from a world-class team of artistic leaders. Administered by the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI),
First Wave is the first-ever university program focused on spoken word and the hip-hop culture. First Wave Executive Director Willie Ney describes the program as
a family, a community, and a movement.
“Our focus as a group is hip-hop theater,” Smith said. “We perform all around campus and perform community service work with area high schools and
Smith, a second year student majoring in education, describes spoken word and hip-hop as a transformative tool in educating youth. Where hip-hop was once a
fringe genre, he said, it is now undeniably a part of mainstream culture and a powerful creative movement.
“There is no denying the presence of hip-hop,” Smith said. “It was about time that a university came forward and embraced it.”
While truly revolutionary, the program at UW-Madison is not completely altruistic. Like many universities, UW-Madison has long been trying to recruit and better
retain students of color on campus. According to Smith, First Wave is a powerful recruitment and retention tool.
“I would never have come to UW-Madison without this program,” admits Smith, a native of St. Paul, Minn. “If I did, I don’t think I would have stayed at UW-
Madison without this program. In the end, it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.”
When Smith started conducting rap and spoken word exercises with kids at the community center, they were riveted. Creative sparks flew, laughter bubbled,
and confidence (even among those who first appeared shy) seemed to build in the east side youngsters. Mishur hopes it is just the beginning of a great thing.
Aside from a Spoken Word Youth Show every third Friday of the month, rapping and break dancing workshops are in the works.
By Laura Salinger
When First Wave scholar Danez Smith (left, r, standing) showed up to the East Madison
Community Center for the first-ever Youth Spoken Word event, it was questionable the effect he
would have on the handful of kids gathered there. Lolling around the auditorium in the early evening,
the youth seemed apathetic to the task at hand. That is, until Smith took to center stage and stole the
scene. Soon, he had kids “spitting,” drumming on the tables, break dancing and writing their own
songs, raps, and poetry. The creative energy in the room literally went from nil to excitingly palpable
in a matter of less than five minutes.
For volunteer organizers Sashe Mishur and her partner Kate, it was clearly what they were hoping
for. Frequent volunteers at the community center, Mishur and her partner are hoping to create a night
where east side youth can tap into their creative talents, while finding a positive connection with a
culture that is familiar to them — hip-hop.