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“So these are unprecedented times,” says the man in the middle of the computer screen, whose face is surrounded by several other faces, all logged in from their homes.
Unprecedented times call for extraordinary action.
The Jason Taylor Foundation moved its annual Louder Than a Bomb spoken-word poetry competition onto a virtual platform, using Zoom to connect the teenage poets with the judges, with the whole thing being coordinated from Sean Todd’s living room.
“So it really has been a digital microcosm of what we’ve become and really put everything nice, concisely in one place,” said Todd, the Vice President of the Jason Taylor Foundation.
In normal times, when there’s no viral pandemic threatening society, the teenage poets perform in a theatre. This year, the organizers had to write an alternative script.
“And we knew it wasn’t going to be the same, the world is not the same right now but the passion behind those stories is the same,” said Seth Levit, the foundation’s executive director.
The poets represent 32 high schools, from Homestead to Jacksonville, with nearly 300 kids competing all from the safety of their homes. They send in videos of their performances which are then ranked by the judges, who are all watching at the same time.
As usual, the students blend personal revelations with current events and societal commentary. One Asian-American poet spoke emotionally about facing bigotry and suspicion, because of her race, during this pandemic scare.
”Our goal was to make sure the kids did not lose one more thing, they’re not in school, they’re not seeing their classmates, they’re not going to athletic competitions, debate competitions, they’re gonna lose their prom and Gradbash, but they did not lose Louder Than a Bomb,” Levit said.
The festival is nearing its final rounds. You can watch from home on the Jason Taylor Foundation’s Facebook page.