Team Philadelphia

Team Philadelphia

About the Team

Philadelphia is the sixth most populous city in the United States, and it boasts many historical landmarks, as well as numerous college campuses. And yet, it also has one of the highest murder rates in the country. This contradiction is reflected in Philadelphia's poetry. High-achieving college students—several of them from Ivy League schools—make Philly the dream team to beat. Last year, they took home the Brave New Voices National Youth Poetry Slam Championship.

This year's Philly team is led by high pedigree wordsmiths, several of them returning champions unwilling to give up their title. Each member of coach Greg Corbin's team is a seasoned performer and superior writer. A poet himself, Greg Corbin trains these young poets out of his love for spoken word. Without a formal company or organization to provide a space to conduct workshops or offer financial support, the Philadelphia team relies mostly on the driven work ethic of its team members and coach. The goal for them is clear: To go to Brave New Voices and win again.


About the Coach

Greg Corbin is the founder, mentor and coach for the Youth Poetry Team from Philadelphia. Too often, he sees Philadelphia's youth "take advantage of the revolving door of incarceration rather than the revolving door of education." Greg came into coaching poets as a way to get beyond the limits of traditional pedagogy. "I was teaching, and I was struggling 'cause I really don't want to be confined in a classroom," he says. "I want to travel the world, go help inner city youth and do workshops and consult and speak at events. I don't want to be intellectually constipated like, 'You should listen to me because I have this degree.' I don't want you to feel like you've had a lecture. No, I want you to be inspired when you leave my presence."

The Contenders

Hasan Malik Babb
Josh Bennett
Aysha El Shamayleh
Noel Scales
Chloe Wayne
Alysia Harris

Josh Bennett

Josh, a verbal alchemist, is a 19-year-old junior at the University of Pennsylvania and a unique figure in the youth slam community. Josh honed his distinctive brainy-edgy voice as a poet in the gritty urban 'hood of his native Yonkers and the exclusive private school Rye Country Day School.

"I didn't fit the stereotype," explains Josh. "So whereas I'm super hard in high school, I go back home and I'm this kinda like soft, kinda outcast whitewash dude."

At Brave New Voices 2008, Josh was a veteran slam champion and MVP of the Philly team. On the verge of his 20th birthday, this is his last time at BNV, and he is passionate about leaving behind a legacy that will last long after him.

"I want to leave an impression on people that Josh did it right," he says. "That's the legacy that I'm concerned with: How will people remember you when you're gone? And so next year when people are reminiscing about poems that they've heard at Brave New Voices past, I want to be one of those voices that's mentioned."

Aysha El Shamayleh

This former gymnast from Amman, Jordan is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. When she first arrived in the United States, Aysha was nervous. "I was sensitive because I did not know how Americans would react to me being an Arab," she says. "I didn't know what they'd think, and I was scared. A lot of my American friends—I was the first Arab they ever met."

While she has since settled in comfortably, she still misses some things from home. "I missed the food," she says. "You guys don't have good food."

Aysha is proud and grateful for her education. When her father was confronted by people who doubted the need for women's education, he stood for his beliefs. Aysha recounts, "He said, 'You know what? I love my daughters and I'm going to invest in them, in their education.' That's why I really love my father. He's a feminist."

Aysha spits passionately about gender and social justice for the Middle East and all Muslims. "My first language is Arabic," she says. "And sometimes I feel really guilty because I cannot pick up a pen and write a poem in Arabic. Maybe it's because it's a very rich, sophisticated language, very difficult to use." Is there slam poetry in the Arab world? Aysha says, "Not that I'm aware of, but my sister and I were thinking we would love to introduce it to Jordan and the Arab world."

Aysha recognizes the challenges that lie ahead. "There is a lot of pressure because we are the reigning champions," she says. "There are a lot of expectations and I hope we live up to them." At this year's Brave New Voices, she discovers that both confrontation and compromise will enable her to have her say.

Alysia Harris

This 19-year-old linguistics major at the University of Pennsylvania studies Arabic and Russian. Alysia is a feminist and a Republican who started her poetry career as a little girl writing about My Little Pony. Alysia fell in love with poetry in the fifth grade, and as a strongly Christian teenager who didn't drink or smoke, she stood out at Virginia's prestigious St. Stephen's St. Agnes high school. Her dad was a ranger in the Army's Special Forces, so Alysia learned early on how to defend herself.

She describes the Philly team's win at Brave New Voices 2007 as "complete unity." "We had just won and 400 people get on stage and surround us in a circle," she says. "We were like 'Philly poets are the craziest!' I was just overwhelmed and crying because I had never seen that much genuine appreciation and happiness."

Regarding her peers, Alysia says, "I definitely think my generation is not what people think. They don't give us enough credit. Everyone I know is politically involved or has an opinion about what's going on. People really want change, really want something different to happen. For me, spoken word is really essential to that."

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