At H.D. Woodson High School, roughly 500 kids took the stage for D.C. Score’s annual poetry slam.
No topic was off limits, and the competitors – who go to schools across the city – tackled everything from their dreams to politics and racism to crime and education.
It was the second night of competition.
The program’s executive director, Bethany Henderson, said there are so many participants the poetry slam takes two nights.
"This is our eastside slam,” she said. “Last night was the westside."
D.C. Scores was founded in 1994.
By Henderson’s account, the program goes where “kids in need” are and “combines soccer, poetry, and service learning.”
At least 55 schools and recreation centers have neighborhood teams. All of the participants are in grades 3 through 8.
They trained for this night, the poetry slam, for 12 weeks.
"We are all people,” one group yelled from the stage. “Don't let racism pull us apart. Whether you're black or white. We should treat each other right."
“I'm striving for success,” said another. “I told my mom that I'll always do my best."
Each team performed two group poems and then an individual one.
For the team from Neville Thomas Elementary School, the individual piece was written and performed by a fifth grader named Arnye Young.
When she spoke her words enthralled the crowd. Most of her poem focused on the election.
"They say man up, but what about woman up?” Young said. “There has never been a woman president that's what I see."
At the end of it all, a winner is selected.
All of the trophies sat on the side of the stage – but with every word, every stomp and every cheer, this night was about something more.
It was about the voices of children who come from so-called “at risk” environments, Henderson said.
"I hope they take away the fact that their voice matters,” she said. “What they have to say matters and people will listen."