The impoverished streets of Brooklyn are a hard place to grow up, and an even harder place to escape from at the dawn of adulthood. In 2001, deep in the birth place of hip hop, a group of perceptive, socially responsible writers formed a slam poetry class for teens called the Power Writers Program. Their defining goal was to teach their students how to use language to empower themselves and overcome adversity with the written word. Their motto, â€œIf you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else will write it for you.â€ These teachers happened to be involved with filmmaking as well, hence, when three of their students started to show some very real talent for writing, To Be Heard was born. Their film is a testament to the power of language, the importance of encouragement, and the ability to overcome the harsh realities of growing up in the ghetto.
At the beginning of this four year journey, we are introduced to a trio of teens bound together as friends through poetry, all of whom grew up in over crowded, low income, single parent homes. The sole male of the outfit, Anthony Pittman seems to comprehend his dire situation and realizes what he needs to free himself of it, but no matter how honest and insightful his poems are, his own words don’t seem to seep into his physical day to day. Anthony still gets into trouble. He completely understands that he can avoid it, but he chooses not to regardless. Next, Pearl Quick is an over weight teen struggling to become comfortable in her own skin while attending high school and working part time to help pay the rent for her welfare abiding mother.
Rounding out their â€œtripodâ€ is Karina Sanchez, a young woman who’s abusive mother has forced her into caring for her six younger siblings while her mother works. All three of these unfortunate teens possess brilliant, perceptive minds and a willingness to divulge their most personal thoughts in the form of impactful spoken word that transcends their surroundings, and through this activity they see the light at the end of the tunnel. A better future is within their grasp thanks to their passionately committed literary mentors and their own newfound self confidence.
Following a fairly standard MTV Real Life like structure, the film follows its young subjects into their home lives, through their class meetings, and on to live stages where the kids competitively perform. Interspersed with the candid footage are interviews with the program teachers who interject on their students and how they approach teaching in this type of environment, as well as performances by the young writers directly into the camera. Their young words are spoken with authority and ache of authentic experience. Hard times yield great beauty in the hands of immense creative beings. To Be Heard manages to capture their overcoming of affliction through human expression, making for quite a stirring documentary that exposes and inspires.