Our series from the WUNC Summer Youth Radio Institute continues this morning with a story from 18-year-old Jasmine Farmer. She's a poet and recent high school graduate who's involved with the slam poetry group Sacrificial Poets. Once a month the group hosts an open-mic night in the back room of Chapel Hill Fly Leaf Books. As Jasmine reports it's become a place where young people can perform their writing to a welcoming audience.
Jasmine Farmer: When you go to an Open Mic,
Terrence Foushe: So like
Jasmine Farmer: there are a handful of things you have to learn.
Terrence Foushee: we have one thing that we do in the poetry world...
Jasmine Farmer: One of them is to snap.
Terrence Foushee: we snap, we snap, we snap, we snap.
Jasmine Farmer: At an event like this, you snap when you hear a dope line from a poet. Terrence Foushee is the emcee for tonight, it's his job to break in the crowd and teach them what it's all about.
Terrence Foushee: Alright alright, so it's a lot of ya'll that need to be broken in. See we all family in here. We all brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces, all of that.....
Jasmine Farmer: At the open mic tonight, there are all different races and types of people. Mostly teenagers and college students. Foushee says the quality of the poetry isn't as important as the community atmosphere and the experiences of performers.
Terrence Foushee: They wanted to go on stage, to be heard and everybody's voice is important so I think what I try to do in those certain situations where the poet might not get the response that he/she may have wanted that I helped the crowd to understand why that person's voice being heard is important and why we need to continue to support everybody who steps on the stage.
Jasmine Farmer: It's this sense of community that attracted Ian McKeown. He's a rising sophomore at Chapel Hill High School and he took the stage at this open mic.
Terrence Foushee: Um so, y'all really give it up for this guy cause I owe him something. Um, Ian !
Ian Mckeown: There's a lot more people than usual in here tonight. Yeah, make some noise; that's a good thing. You still owe me a shirt...
Jasmine Farmer: Mckeown started coming to the Open Mic because of being bullied everyday. In seventh grade, he left his foot in the aisle of his schoolbus and accidentally tripped another student. This small incident turned into nearly three years of bullying.
Ian McKeown: He called me everyday after that day on the bus: Lardo Retardo. Which was without a doubt the stupidest thing I had ever heard. Worst insult, but the problem was it was orginal. See I'd heard every other joke in the book but that one was so stupid no one had ever used it before so it caught me completly off guard and it just hurts so much. And once he started so did everyone else. So basically I became the joke of the bus and everyone just started calling me fat and all this kind of stuff and it really hurt for awhile.
Jasmine Farmer: Now Mckeown has found an outlet for his feelings and frustrations--spoken word poetry. He also found a community of supportive peers and adults at the Touchstones Open Mic.
Ian Mckeown: So like it really let me get out any extra pinned up anger. If I've had just the worst day ever, I can come home and write and then I spit what I wrote at that open mic and everyone will help it and then that bad day isn't bad anymore cause I got a poem out of it.
Ian McKeown: Cause I like to imagine he can see just a little farther into the night sky past the biggest hazy sight lines and saw that with the whole big universe out there, someone has to be tolerant. My uncle was a star, shined brighter than the night sky he led me home every night even when I hadn't met him yet. He severed his ties to earthly family and fights so we can float in freedom. I guess that's why when I talk to him, he always says you're estranged uncle.
Jasmine Farmer: McKeown says Touchstones helps young people feel empowered using their voices.
Terrence Foushee: Our young people are doing some amazing things. And I love it when somebody like Ian can come on the stage and talk about real life stuff. North Carolina, we are getting better....
Jasmine Farmer: Eventually, the open mic became a healing place for him, and teasing doesn't get to him so much anymore.
Ian McKeown: I pretty much grew a thicker skin and was like: this is pointless, y'all are stupid. And I started writing about it and I was just like yeah I'm pretty much over this. And so whenever he sees me he's like : "Lardo Retardo," and Im just like "how's it going?" and walk away because he just means nothing to me.
Jasmine Farmer: Now, he's tryin to bring more people to Touchstones. Young people like him who need a place to feel safe. McKeown recently invited a friend going through a rough time to join him at the Open Mic. Mckeown says his friend instantly fell in love and he left with hopes of taking his place at the mic the next time. With the summer youth radio institute, I'm Jasmine Farmer. North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC.
Jasmine Farmer graduated from Carrboro High School last June. She's now working as a full-time member of the North Carolina Literacy Corps based at the Marion Cheek Jackson Center in the Northside Neighborhood of Chapel Hill. She's also a student at Durham Tech.