This collection is the product of a particular kind of work that we at Youth Speaks have been involved with since the COVID-19 pandemic began: how do we continue to make space for youth voice when it is unsafe for us to gather in person? Shelter in place began in the Bay Area on Monday, March 13th. By that Friday, we held our first Under 21 Open Mic over social media and by summer, our annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival was online and streaming from smartphones and computer screens throughout the world. We've had to learn fast alongside our young folks how to gather around the virtual table, especially as each day has seemingly brought an end to the world we knew before and presented us a new one: from the powerful and necessary rebellion for Black life that prompted us to imagine a world without police, to the supreme court defense of DACA, to the gradual realization for us that, even when this pandemic ends, we must continue to host online spaces and make opportunities for our young folks to build across border and time zone, hood and tongue.
We chose the title, "Between My Body and the Air" because it reflected a question that each of these young authors addresses in their own way: what does it mean to navigate the world in this body, where even the air has finally turned against me? At Youth Speaks, we believe in the power and necessity of youth voice. That is why, in addition to reading the text of each piece, this anthology allows you to access a recording of each poem so you can hear the authors speak it from their own mouths. Some of these poems are songs! Some of these poems were recorded from a phone propped up on a counter with their bedrooms unfurling around them. And some are mural decorated, their voices mixing with the bustle of their cities, as captured by family or friend's loving hand. By picking up these words, you are entrusted with a responsibility: read them, watch them, play them from your loudest speakers, pass them to someone desperately in need. However you choose to crack this anthology open, promise to listen close because these young folks are going in and, as the classic Youth Speaks tag line says, "the next generation speaks for itself".