Team San Francisco

Team San Francisco

About the Team

San Francisco is the diverse and progressive home of Youth Speaks, the founding organization behind the Brave New Voices movement. Youth Speaks works with 45,000 teens per year in the Bay Area alone.

First time coach Lauren Whitehead facilitates egalitarian workshops where everyone's voice and opinion is heard. She empowers the San Francisco team, an eclectic group of young teens, to make many decisions for themselves. Heated emotional confrontations and personal conflicts become a large part of their workshops and Lauren struggles to get the most from her poets. What is she fighting for? San Francisco didn't make it to the finals last year for the first time in five years—this year, Lauren is determined to take them all the way.


About the Coach

Lauren Whitehead knows how hard it can be for young people to speak in public. "People fear speaking in front of people more than they fear death," she says. "So a 14-year-old doing it with very little inhibition and calling out his entire city and saying we need change to a crowd of 3,000 people is heroic." Whitehead, who is closer in age to her team than most coaches are, understands how her poets overcome anxiety. "I still get nervous every time I get in front of people," she says. "What's different is that these young people feel an urgency. They need to say something that hasn't been said, so they are willing to overcome their fear [in order] to be heard."

The Contenders

Simone Crew, 17
Devin Murphy, 18
Bryant Phan, 15
Ericka Sheppard, 16
Mike Taylor, 19
Jacqulyn Whang, 19

Devin Murphy

Influenced by Bob Dylan and Saul Williams, Devin's name means "Poet" in Gaelic. This 18-year-old from Santa Cruz was just 10 when he got his first surf lesson; now he teaches at a surf school. A spoken word artist, Devin takes pride in aspects of his mixed ancestry. Devin explains, "I try not to think about the German or the English [parts] because they colonized half the world. I'm an 8th Cherokee and I've identified with that a lot throughout life." He also identifies strongly with his Irish heritage.

Devin got an early start in the world of poetry. "I first got a poem published when I was seven years old in the Porter Gulf Review," he says, proud that he was the youngest poet ever published in the magazine. "This community has a lot of poets," he continues. "My mother's group of friends are all writers. She's a writer. I've been immersed in literature for a while. Then spoken word came in two or three years ago. I started doing a radio show and doing it myself."

Devin finds poetry therapeutic. "Poets are the midwives of reality," he says, "so I write to interpret the world around me. It's my medium of staying sane." At Brave New Voices, Devin shares his unique perspective on life as an American teen with the community at large.

Ericka Sheppard

This 16-year-old rookie poet has emerged from the challenging Tenderloin district of San Francisco. As she faces the world with a sassy, humorous outlook, Ericka views poetry as a way of coping with the struggles of being a teen.

Ericka is clear about her goal to make the Youth Speaks San Francisco team: "I'm going to DC. I 'm not trying to make nothing. I'm going to DC. I know I am."

Ericka explains, "I always had very low self-esteem. And I was watching kids and writing poetry. When I went to this competition last year the only thing that I thought I was good at was watching kids. I came back this year and I know I am ready. It is a passion. It is no longer a workshop; it is no longer a competition. This is something that you always have to have with you at all times."

Ericka's passion, candor and humor get her on the road to Brave New Voices.


Mike Taylor

Mike started as the only male in a middle school poetry group, and he became the top-scoring poet at the San Francisco Teen Poetry Slam. He faces a unique challenge as a poet. "As a kid," he says, "I didn't understand why it took me so much longer to read than a lot of kids. I do have mild dyslexia and that has made it harder all through life to keep up with schoolwork or read a whole bunch at a time. As a writer, I've found ways around my dyslexia. I memorize my poems. Because when you have a poem memorized, it's yours and you can give it to other people."

This college student of faith doesn't write for therapy or for himself; he performs to entertain and to win. Some label his style lightweight and dismiss his wins as lucky. But Mike feels good about his life in California and is unapologetic about wanting to do happy poetry.

Mike's passion for spoken word evolved from his love of the message and creativity of the Christian hip hop artists introduced to him by his parents. Mike says, "If I do the best that I can, I am happy. I want to present not a flawless piece, but a piece that makes me look like a poet. I wanna make somebody laugh."

Mike's focus and positivity are assets for him and his team at Brave New Voices. He hopes that he and his fellow poets live up to their potential and bring home the championship for the Bay.

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