Speak Poet! Shazaam In Focus! Program Creates Space for Young Voices



There is nothing more rewarding for me than spending my afternoons in a school teaching young people about spoken word poetry. Even better when the school is only a hop, skip and jump away from my front yard (handy for folks like me who hit the snooze button as if I am playing Hungry Hungry Hippo). Even though the month of November brought in colder weather, things were quickly heating up inside a grade 8 class at Holy Trinity Catholic School.

Back to school means a lot of things. New clothes, new shoes, new books and best of all the start of a new season of the Shazaam In Focus! Program – one of my favorite programs to teach. For my first session this fall, I was honored to teach at Holy Trinity Catholic School (formally Christ the King – where I was an alumni). Another nostalgic six days where I found myself teaching in a class that brought back all the feels with each wave of pre- grade 8 grad memories.


James Culnan Students Step to the Mic for Shazaam! In Focus Program


Of all the Shazaam classes I have taught, this group at James Culnan was by far the largest, which meant I had the pleasure of indulging in even more stories from young people who, once encouraged, were able to let it all out on stage. With 37 Grade eights in total (yes, you read that right) we were so fortunate to have our full Shazaam team on board, including our newest Shazaam members the whimsical wordsmith herself, Whitney French and one of my favorite photographers in Toronto, Ebti Nabag.



Speak Poet! Youth SLAM @ Second St Junior Middle School for Shazaam! In Focus Program

Paulina O’Kieffe Mar.31.2017 – all photos taken by Alessandra Cardarelli

After a long week of teaching, being on set, meetings, emails, moving the last pieces of my house and just general child rearing, I awoke to a cold, wet and rather dreary Friday. The last days of March were nowhere near convincing me it was going to be spring anytime soon, but I still trudged to my car to head over to facilitate my final day of Lakeshore Arts’ Shazaam! In Focus Program.


Over the past 5 sessions the grade 8 students at Second St Junior Middle School (which proudly is in my neighbourhood of South Etobicoke- woop woop!) had been working on preparing to present their final poems for our spoken word SLAM. Despite some initial hesitations (and oh so much groaning) in the first session, today every student participated. I was prepared for some good poetry, as all my classes have a few really good writers and performers, but today’s session blew me out of the water (my fingers are literally recovering from the excessive snapping).


My Art Is The Counter Message – When Sisters Speak Poet Talks About What Keeps Her Going

When Sisters Speak is now in its 17th year! It’s North America’s largest and longest-running showcase of Black spoken word poets curated annually by Scarborough Walk of Fame inductee Dwayne Morgan.

The show brings together six poets from different walks of life from Canada and the U.S. to discuss their perspectives on the world they share, through the lens of being Black women.

We caught up with Paulina O’Kieffe, one of the performers taking the stage.


Massive photo project HERstory in Black shows a ‘different face of leadership’

First Published by CBC – Feb 21 2017

Photo series profiles 150 black women from the GTA and other parts of Ontario

Emily Mills gathered 150 black women for a massive photo shoot in Toronto that not only captured the women but their “range of professions, life experiences and perspectives.”

HERstory in Black is a digital photo series spearheaded by Mills, a senior communications officer at the CBC as well as the founder of How She Hustles, a network of 5,000 diverse women. Over the course of the week, CBC will profile several women who took part in the photo shoot online, on CBC Radio as well as on CBC News Network. You can also explore their stories in this interactive mosaic.