“I was the mystery of an anatomy, a question asked but not answered,” projected the 19-year-old South African slam poet Lee Mokobe. “[I was] tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl,” he continued. And when I turned 12, the boy phase wasn’t deemed cute anymore.” This was the moment when Mokobe came out as transgender on the world stage at TEDWomen 2015, captivating the attention of listeners around the world through his visceral and raw autobiographical poem.
Mokobe is currently Brave New Voices’ youth slam poet champion and founder of a youth literary organization called Vocal Revolutionaries. But that’s not all. After working with teens who were in shelters, foster and group homes, or homeless in Philadelphia, he decided to start Ubuntu Performance Camp, in partnership with the Philly Youth Poetry Movement. The camp is designed to teach young people poetry and leadership skills, and prove to the seemingly forgotten homeless youth that they, too, can express themselves, have a bright future, and be change agents through art. The camp will run for two weeks before the summer sets in and be taught by established poets, dancers, and actors in Philadelphia and across America. Everyone will leave with one assignment – to compose an anthology of their writing from their poetry workshops – that is to be completed by the end of summer and be ready for public performance. The themes are personal struggle and aspirations, and all proceeds will go towards a small scholarship fund for the best dedicated student among the group. We’re proud that our AWB grant will help make this camp a reality.
If you’re wondering what Ubuntu means, it is a South African term that loosely translated means compassion towards humanity or “I am who I am because of who we are.”