A Beautiful and Imperfect Portrait

As our partners at Louder than a Bomb/Young Chicago Authors plunge into their 2013 festival season, we offer this inspired reflection from Demetrius Amparan.

Seven years ago I was a skeptical, calloused teen from the South Side of Chicago. My best friend had been killed in a hit and run by a drunk police officer. Nothing made sense anymore. I was scared to find solace in friends—afraid I’d lose them like I lost Eddie. My parents tried to comfort me, but the only place I felt safe was in my notebook.

A month after Eddie passed, I joined the poetry team at Morgan Park High School and then a couple of my teammates convinced me to go to WordPlay, Young Chicago Authors’ weekly open mic. They told me it’d be the perfect place to share my writing with other youth throughout the city. I didn’t believe them--where I grew up, sharing your feelings with anyone made you vulnerable and weak in the eyes of peers. I rarely showed my emotions, the very things that make me human.

But I remember my first open mic like it was yesterday. As I stepped into the space, I heard a young woman reciting a poem about the loss of her grandmother. I sat silently and listened to her pour her heart out on stage to a group of teens with whom she had no ties. I saw compassion in the eyes of every person in that room. As she left the stage, I had to comfort her. It was something I’d never seen. At that very moment, I knew YCA was the place for me to step up.

I’ve grown up through YCA. With them, I’ve had the joy of evolving into a professional performance artist and sharing my story across the nation. This weekend, 700 kids from neighborhoods all over Chicago converge for Crossing the Street, the first day of our 2013 Louder than a Bomb Festival. They all come from very different places, but with this event, with this festival, our faces, our voices, our power and passion come together to paint a beautiful and imperfect portrait of this city.

Demetrius Amparan is a poet, a father, and Director of Publications and Communications at YCA.