About the Team
Home to Hapa (mixed race) culture, volcanic peaks, palm trees and warm tropical winds, Hawai'i is also the site of an emerging spoken word scene. Lyz Soto and Kealoha coach a group of young poets who've decided to focus their writing on Hawaiian culture—lessons on Hawaiian dance, language, and history find a way into their poetry. These poets don't just wax about the natural beauty of Hawai'i; they weigh in on issues such as state sovereignty.
On first look, the Hawai'i team appears to lead a laid-back, idyllic lifestyle, but they can slam with the best of them. They're traveling farther than any other US team to get to Washington, DC and they'd like to make the long trip back to Honolulu knowing they've expressed themselves to the widest audience possible.
About the Coaches
With a degree in nuclear physics from MIT, Kealoha Wong makes his living as a poet. After seeing a 200-person Youth Speaks slam in San Francisco, this former management consultant took a "radical sabbatical" and became a full-time surfer and top slam poet. He founded Youth Speaks Hawai'i and sees beauty in his poets' work. "They've been given this gift, this medium, to express themselves, and they're using it to expose the injustices that have been covered up for so long," Wong says. "It's a beautiful thing to see that kind of truth being spoken. You harness that teenage angst and give it a purpose, and a message and they're using it for the good of the community."
Lyz Soto is the organizational center of the Hawai'i team and the director of Youth Speaks Hawai'i. This is the team's fourth trip to the Brave New Voices festival with Soto and Wong. "I think our chances are very good for doing well at Brave New Voices," Soto says. "Every time you see newbies come in, it's really funny. They're big fish in a little pond here; they're so confident. Then they go to nationals, and they realize, 'Wow, there's like 10 more notches I can go with my stuff.' They're excited about it."