Thursday, February 20, 2020


Peace Games display athletic, artistic skills of north Minneapolis youth
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Rodney Dixon and Jamie Wynn perform a long-form poem they call "The Hurricane." It's dedicated to Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the ex-boxer who spent more than 22 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
This weekend marks the launch of the Peace Games, a two-week long exhibition of athletic competition, arts and culture. The bulk of the events will take place in north Minneapolis. Organizers say one of the goals of the event is to show the positive side of a part of the city that is struggling with crime and poverty.

Minneapolis, Minn. — While some participants of the Peace Games will show their skills on basketball courts, others will display their artistic talents. One example is the work of young urban poets. They've composed works about peace that reveal the pain, despair and hope they see around them.

A few days before the Peace Games kickoff, the poets came to the Bean Scene coffee shop in north Minneapolis to showcase their material. They're part of a group of multi-racial youth called Teen Poets Rock the Mic.

Due to technical difficulties on this particular night, there is no microphone to rock. That leaves poet Jasmine Omorgobe to compete with the din of a bustling coffeeshop.

"I just wish I was a kid again/'cause back then when I lived on Plymouth and Penn, it was almost all good in the hood/we could play outside and dodge balls instead of bullets," shouts Omorgobe.

She and her partner in poetry, Mosu Ogunlana, combine rhyme, rhythm and song in this piece they specifically wrote about the challenges of growing up in north Minneapolis.

"The news says - 'north Minneapolis' - but - 'crime drugs and violence' - is all the audience seems to hear."

I just wish I was a kid again/'cause back then when I lived on Plymouth and Penn, it was almost all good in the hood/we could play outside and dodge balls instead of bullets.
- Poet Jasmine Omorgobe

Following the performance, Melissa Borgmann takes the stage. She's an adult mentor, advisor and organizer of Teens Rock the Mic. She's also a teacher at North High School.

"In teacher-speak, that would be something we would call an exemplar. We hold it up as a model of what this teacher thinks is good," says Borgmann. "But I would like to hear from you -- what you noticed, what you heard, what you noticed about this piece."

Borgmann is trying to get the audience to comment on what they think makes good spoken word poetry. She's writing down some of the suggestions to help the group of poets decide which of their pieces performed here tonight will be used in an upcoming event at the Walker Art Center.

The Walker is sponsoring a Peace Games art exhibition, and the Teen Poets will curate the spoken word part. But they only have 20-30 minutes to fill, and they have many talented performers. It will be hard to decide who will make it.

The Peace Foundation, a nonprofit group that funds efforts to fight the root causes of violence in the inner city, is organizing the games. The topic of peace is one close to Jamie Wynn, an outreach coordinator for the foundation.

Wynn, 19, is also a poet. As a young child, Wynn lived in a part of Chicago that was so violent, he used to sleep near the floor to avoid flying bullets.

"Minneapolis, although they have a lot of things going on now, they're showing some of the same signs of what my other community used to have," Wynn says.

Wynn says spoken word is a good addition to the Peace Games because it's a way to get interracial, intergenerational audiences to talk to each other.

"That's the biggest thing we've had to deal with is this whole generation gap," says Wynn. "Our elders do not want to hear what you have to say if you're not saying anything positive. And our young people don't want to hear what you're saying, regardless if it's positive or negative, if it's not entertaining. So for us to tie both of those together through spoken word, it's been viewed as a phenomenon, so to speak."

At the end of the night the poets did manage to get the microphone to work. But they hadn't decided which peace poems will make it to the stage at the Walker. Whoever they pick will be joined by the winners of the Peace Games poetry slam.

The Peace Games begin Saturday at North Commons Park in Minneapolis. The games will wrap up with an outdoor worship service at Farview Park on Aug. 14.