Youth Speaks: Alum James Kass Founded Poetry Organization 20 Years Ago

Thursday, March 17, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- “We’ve always taken our slams as parties,” says James Kass, “even if the topics the kids are writing about are really serious.” Kass, 47, founded Youth Speaks in 1996, while he was getting his Master’s degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State. Hoping to inspire more students of color to study writing, he launched a phenomenon — nationwide, nearly 250,000 teens, ages 13 – 19, participated last year. Among Youth Speaks’ alumni are West Oakland poet and playwright Chinaka Hodge, who is developing a television series with “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” writer-director Ryan Coogler, and her close friend Daveed Diggs, who stars on Broadway in the hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” “Daveed would win every time,” Hodge says of their Berkeley High slams. “But it was never really about that. It was always about the community, and having a place where I could be heard and seen.”