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People's Poetry Benefit for Jeremy Marks

by Rockero Tuesday, Mar. 01, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Saturday, February 26, 2011

NORTH HOLLYWOOD - For the sixth consecutive year, the Community Rights Campaign, an initiative of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, held a night of youth expression of poetic resistance at the NoHo Actor's Studio. A standing-room audience, predominantly made up of youth of color, took part in the evening's poetry recital and open mic, which doubled as a fundraiser for the legal defense of Jeremy Marks, an 18-year-old arrested by Los Angeles Schools Police Department and charged with attempting lynching for filming an act of brutality by a member of the department against a fellow student.

The Community Rights Campaign has focused on organizing high school students at Locke, Roosevelt, Cleveland, and Westchester high schools against truancy tickets, which channels them into the criminal "justice" system, in favor of a police review board to receive and investigate complaints about police, and against the budget cuts which are gutting public education, in addition to generally fomenting a culture of resistance among Los Angeles' disempowered youth.

In typical Strategy Center style, a lively round of chants and drumming energized the crowd prior to a welcome from two of the youth organizers. They introduced the campaign and gave an overview of Marks' case.

The first set of performers shared works based on their own experiences of criminalization at schools. They were followed by an a capella rendition of Lauryn Hill's "I Get Out."

The second set consisted of young performers articulating their experiences with being stereotyped as "gang members" only to find that that stigma has been officialized through membership in a police gang database.

Prior to the last set, a youth organizer shared a rundown of the camapign's advances this year. "So far this year, we've stopped the expansion of municipal code 45.04, which would've given LASPD the right to ticket students on campus. Through our work, we've been able to end the collaboration between LASPD doing seeps at Roosevelt. We've also--through our work at Roosevelt--we were able to get sixteen tickets dropped in court this past Wednesday. This past Wednesday! We wouldn't have been able to do that without the support of the principals, teachers, parents, community members all working together to get that done."

The last scheduled group of poets recited compositions relating their personal and community struggles to the larger context of systematic oppression and resistance thereto.

Following the third round, the emcee introduced Rochelle Pitman, Jeremy Marks' mother, who gave a few words of thanks.

She was followed by a series of performers, many of them collaboratives, who approached the open microphone.

Following the performance, attendees were welcomed into the back room where food was served and community-building conversations were held. While there, Jeremy Marks' grandmother, Alice Pitman, addressed the group and explained how her family's tragedy has been a consciousness-raising experience for her and her hope that the struggle for change will bring about justice for those yet to tread the path of Los Angeles' public high schools.

"If this child hadn't been to jail, first of all, we wouldn't all be in this--in this center tonight, this gathering, to be informed of what's going on." She continued, "I didn't understand, 'Well, why is this happening?' [...] I sat in court for seven months and I didn't understand. Now I'm understanding what's going on now. We're together on this now. And this one incident will help millions of children, millions of children. Thank you very much."

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