Nadia Brooks has been participating in the MLK Oratorical Festival since she was five years old. Whether it’s because she is her class president (for the third time), reads the Skyline High School announcements over the loudspeaker every fourth period or tends to win awards at the Oratorical, everybody seems to know and love Nadia.
We caught up with Nadia after Ms. Awele’s Advanced Drama class to learn about the 11th grader’s plans for this year’s festival and what poetry means to her.
Photo: Nadia has won first place in the Chorals/Original Poetry category of the MLK Oratorical for the last two years.
What got you started with performing and drama?
In second grade I did my own solo performance at the Oratorical. I wrote my own ode to activists of color like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, MLK and Rosa Parks. I got help with vocabulary, but they were my ideas. I remember I wanted to be with the kids who were serious about poetry. That year I got first place at the school level and then went to the district level finals and got second place. I was so frustrated - I wanted that big trophy with four pillars.
How did you get started writing poetry?
Ever since second grade, I write all my poetry in a journal which I call Volume One because I know I’m going to fill it up really quickly. Poetry is sort of my diary. I have tons of ideas coming to me throughout the day so whenever I think of a good rhyme or something I want to write about, I jot it down. I make sure I have my journal with me wherever I go.
Had I not performed in the MLK Oratorical, I might not be writing poetry now and that’s a scary thought because I really depend on it. My teachers have helped to inspire me by introducing me to new poets over the years and encouraging me. This is my third year of Ms. Awele’s class and she’s taught me a lot about poetry structure and how to look below the surface level to find a deeper meaning in every word choice, syntax and placement.
Do you have a favorite poet?
I love so many, but Maya Angelou is my favorite. We just read a critique of her in my AP Language and Composition class from an author who said Why The Caged Bird Sings is mediocre and it hurt my heart, but I guess that’s a part of critical analysis. Oh, also I love Tupac!
How do you feel about public speaking?
The MLK Oratorical was my first experience in front of a large crowd at a very young age and even though it made me feel small, I’ve learned how to feel big and strong and make the stage and microphone my platform. Now every day at the start of 4th period I do the announcements as part of Leadership, which is student government on campus. I also speak to the whole school when we have assemblies - I’m really comfortable with speaking.
What are you performing in the oratorical this year?
It’s sort of a surprise. I have a ton of poetry and poems stacked up in my book. There are a few that I’m considering, I’ve memorized a lot of them. Right now I’m working on a new piece that needs some revisions and I may play with the spelling of the title - you know, do the whole poetry thing.
The Oratorical needs all the hype it can get - students build better habits when they prepare for something that big and it’s also a way for people to discover poetry. Poetry is a really powerful tool, especially for students in Oakland who are going through so much on the daily.
Nadia's Performance begins at 28:11.