Poetry collective presents Latino voices, perspectives


With a passion for poems, the founder of El Grito de Poetas - the Poets' Scream - has long had a desire to be heard and seen.

"I'm a big fan of poetry," Lilah Mejia said recently by phone from her New York home. "But I'd be out at open mike events and would be the only Latino and the only female. I knew my people were out there."

Mejia - who goes by the name High Priestess in poetry circles because of her advocacy for women's rights - formed the collective of independent Latino poets last year to let the world know about the wealth of spoken-word artists in the Hispanic community.

El Grito de Poetas, a New York-based group, is scheduled to make its debut in Maryland at 8 p.m. Thursday in Ensor Lounge at McDaniel College as part of the school's Diversity Week celebration.

Mejia said she was inspired to form the group, which has performed mostly at venues in New York, because she believed Latino poets were not being recognized. She said that she knew plenty of Hispanic poets but that they weren't well-known in the community.

"I can't be content. I needed to give our children the knowledge that there are Latinos out there doing something," Mejia said.

She said she wants to share her culture - including the talents of her fellow Latino poets - with the world.

Mejia attributes her perseverance to her "hippy lesbian mothers" for teaching her to be proud of her womanhood and her culture. But she said that when she came up with the idea to form the collective, she had no idea how it would work.

Unwilling to give into doubt, she told a few friends she was going to hold auditions to find members for the group, expecting maybe a handful of poets to show up.

To her surprise, 15 candidates came to her auditions last March.

She settled on a group of 10 New York poets, including herself, with backgrounds from such places as Colombia, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

The group's members go by names like Advocate of Wordz, Majestik, Royal-T, True, Chance and Fish. Simply Rob, Chilo, High Priestess and OVE round out the team.

The group relishes opportunities to visit schools and often holds workshops to help children learn to appreciate poetry.

"When we go to high schools and middle schools to do workshops, about 90 percent of the kids aren't interested at first. They say, `Poetry is boring; it's whack.' They think it's all metaphors and synonyms and has to rhyme," Mejia said. "But then we tell them about hip-hop, and how poetry is hip-hop without the music."

Mejia said the group's members talk to children about their own struggles and how they have been able to relate their experiences through poetry.

"They can relate to the issues we talk about," she said.

During their performances, they recite poems on such topics as AIDS, self-empowerment and single motherhood.

"We know about the struggles growing up in the [Latino] community, and we want young people to know that, yes, we are out here," according to a statement from the group. "We are educated, we are teachers, and yes, we are Latinos with voices. We are here to inspire you."

Since its formation, El Grito de Poetas has performed 69 shows at prisons, colleges, churches, high schools, community centers, AIDS benefits and subway stations.

"I knew I wanted to start something, but I didn't know how it was going to take off," Mejia said. "I honestly didn't know if we were going to get any shows. We did a lot of free shows to build up our credibility. We've been blessed tenfold. Now, most of our bookings come from word-of-mouth."


Diversity week events

McDaniel College will hold its annual Diversity Week tomorrow through Friday with events that are free to the public.

The Office of Multiculturalism will present "African Resurrection," West African dance and drumming, at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Red Square (Decker Center if it rains).

The "Tile Wall Project: Reflection ME/WE" will be held from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in Ensor Lounge. Participants will make tiles for a mural. Tile making will continue from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. The project will be unveiled at 5 p.m. Friday in Kriel Lounge.

Donald Trump's season four apprentice, Randall Pinkett, will present "The Illusion of Full Inclusion: Valuing Diversity Within Youth Culture" at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Decker Auditorium.

The Office of Multiculturalism will present a martial arts workshop at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday in Decker Center's Gold Room A.

Hotel Rwanda will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Decker Auditorium.

"Communicating through Differences," a fair featuring different ways of communicating (such as foreign languages, American Sign Language and art) will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Ensor Lounge.

The GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) discussion panel at 7 p.m. Wednesday will feature perspectives from a parent and friend, as well as gay and straight people.

A tasting of breads from around the world will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday in Ensor Lounge.

Kani Xulam will present "The Kurds, the Turks, the Europeans and the Americans: Do They Mean the Same Thing When They Say Freedom?" at 2 p.m. Thursday in Decker Auditorium.

Poetry group El Grito De Poetas (the Poets' Scream) will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday in Ensor Lounge.

A nondenominational spiritual service will be held in (Little) Baker Chapel from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

The Unity Fair will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Friday in Red Square, featuring an open mike, novelties and vendors.

Information: 410-857-2294.

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