Taylor Robinson, 16, performed at the Louder Than a Bomb finals March 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center. Teens from the West Side and other parts of the city performed at the annual poetry contest in Chicago.

Inside the halls of Saint Ignatius College Prep on the West Side, dark wood paneling frames the hushed corridors. Soft lighting lines long hallways where alums are immortalized in browned photographs that date back to 1870. Statues of Catholic saints look on piously.

Ignatius’ imposing stone building sits at 1076 W. Roosevelt Road, just a few miles from The Loop. It’s one of the city’s most prestigious high schools. Home to about 1,400 students, Ignatius accepts only the brightest from around the city and prides itself on its diverse student body.

But despite that diversity, students like Diana Sarfo can still feel isolated. Sarfo lives in Uptown, a neighborhood on the North Side that has struggled with pockets of gang violence.

“I’m blessed not to experience it firsthand,” Sarfo said, but “not a lot of people here are from Uptown or from the South Side and know exactly how it feels.”

Sarfo said that distance in understanding is underwritten by prejudice. Occasionally classmates will make offensive remarks, she said, such as, “‘Oh, you should know how to run because you’re black’ or people making remarks like whether you should attend this school because you’re on welfare.”

That prejudice and misunderstanding run both ways.

Sarfo said people in her neighborhood assume she’s, in her words, prestigious and high maintenance because she attends Ignatius.

“I don’t want to be seen as one of the crowd,” she said. “I want to be seen as one person.”

Sarfo’s in her senior year and is applying to Ivy League University of Pennsylvania next year. Despite a busy schedule, she said she took a risk to join the slam poetry team this year and compete in the citywide Louder Than a Bomb competition.

One of the pieces she’s performing is titled “Don’t Judge Me.”

“When you go to slams and hear stories, it tells you you’re not alone,” she said. “Everyone is able to relate to each other in one way or the other.”

Sarfo also writes about the loss of her father in a piece in which she describes never being able to tell him that she loves him. Sarfo’s father lived in Ghana for most of her life, and died in 2009.

Poetry coach and creative writing teacher at Ignatius, Craig Siegler, encouraged the school to participate in LTAB this year despite the innumerable extracurricular activities already available to students.

“It gets kids from different parts of the city and suburbs together who normally never would have been in the same room,” he said. “You see a look of recognition constantly on the faces of the students in the audience because what the kids on stage are talking about, the kids in the stands have experienced too.”

To learn more