The Power of Words Poetry Slam featuring Chicago Public School students was nearly slammed itself.
The contest went on without a hitch but was almost derailed due to event organizers not having a proper permit to host the slam at its originally intended location, the Austin High School campus at 231 N. Pine.
Bill Gerstein, principal of Austin Polytechnical Academy, one of three charter schools on the campus, offered the school’s auditorium to host the event. But CPS regulations require a permit be secured when outside parties not affiliated with the school host events or activities on the property. CPS officials did not return a call to Austin Weekly News. Gerstein was alerted about the bureaucratic snafu just days before the slam was to take place, and Ellis was preparing to postpone the event and inform the students of the development.
But with some last minute finagling, Ellis was able to find a new location when the editor for Austin Weekly News contacted community business owner Malcolm Crawford about hosting the event at his establishment. Crawford agreed to have the kids perform at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago.
Gerstein acknowledged that he was unaware that a permit was needed. He believed since some of the students participating were enrolled in one of the campus’s three schools that a permit was not necessary.
“But Chicago Public School policy states that you need to have a permit if you are an outside group sponsoring something, even if the school’s participating,” Gerstein said. “Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to have filed for a permit.”
The event came to CPS’ attention via fliers promoting the poetry slam. Officials then contacted the school. Gerstein said the permit was necessary because of insurance and liability purposes if someone gets hurt. He was glad, however, that the situation worked out in the end. Gerstein, though, supports the idea of using the school for positive community events, like a poetry slam, for West Side teens.
“In their defense, they are doing what they have to do,” he said. “When they found out that there wasn’t this permit filed, they had to do what they had to do, and I total understand.
Ellis also understood the need for the permit, but had hoped CPS would fast-track the requirement instead of placing him in the position of having to cancel the event. Ellis said he understood there is “no bending the rules,” but “it don’t take a week to get a signature on a piece of paper.”
As such, Ellis was grateful for Crawford’s assistance.
“The children come first,” he said. “If you are trying to initiate things for the children, as a community, we should open the resources for the children. He [Crawford] opened the door, and I’m grateful.”
As for the slam itself, Ellis felt it gave the youth a venue to talk about domestic violence and other issues affecting them.
“I’m looking at getting some original voices to say that ‘Y’all don’t see this going on in my life, but this is how I see the world I’m in – this is how I see the world around me,'” Ellis said.