Youth Speaks

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San Francisco, CA

A program designed to engage youth in positive social dialogue through publication, public performance, educational workshops and mentoring initiatives.

Youth Speaks was founded in 1996 to engage Bay Area youth in positive social dialogue through the written and spoken word across boundaries of age, race, class, gender, culture and sexual orientation. It offers opportunities for publication and public performance of poetry alongside its educational workshops and mentoring programs. By providing these opportunities, Youth Speaks hopes to fulfill its mission of promoting literacy development among the teen population.

Nuts and Bolts:

  • Youth Speaks partners with schools to offer performance poetry assemblies, teach poetry workshops in classrooms, develop teen poetry slams and offer after-school creative writing workshops. Also, it offers a film and accompanying curriculum packet to teachers, titled "Poetic License." This packet chronicles two years of Youth Speaks events and the impact of the rise in popularity of spoken-word poetry on the modern youth generation.
  • Though most of its programs are implemented through the schools, Youth Speaks also works with other youth-oriented organizations such as community centers and youth detention centers.
  • All Youth Speaks programs are free and open to anyone between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, regardless of academic performance. James Kass, Founder and Executive Director, notes that the free programs that Youth Speaks provides are especially important because of ongoing cuts in arts education budgets at public schools.
  • Though Youth Speaks uses some professional poets as mentors and works with teachers to implement its in-school programs, the organization strives to employ youth leadership to the greatest possible extent. The organization not only provides opportunities for youth to develop their abilities to express themselves through the written and spoken word, but also provides opportunities for youth to develop their leadership abilities while learning about the operation of nonprofit organizations. Youth are involved at every level of Youth Speaks, including the Board of Directors, the staff, and the mentor-in-training program. The members of Spokes, the youth advisory board of Youth Speaks, are paid interns who participate in school performances, work on publications and website design, and advise the Youth Speaks staff.
  • Youth Speaks receives some income from its publications, which include audio recordings of spoken word performances as well as print publications of poetry. However, most of its funding comes from gifts from foundations and individuals.


  • Since its inception, Youth Speaks has increased the number and scale of events offered and expanded beyond the Bay Area, initiating a New York program in 1999 and a Seattle program in 2002.
  • Brave New Voices, an annual national Olympic-style youth poetry slam and festival that Youth Speaks began in 1999, has become the largest event of its kind in the country.
  • Though Youth Speaks has experienced much success and growth since their creation, executive director James Kass believes they have not wavered from their original mission of engaging youth. Additionally, Kass notes the importance of the organization’s youth leadership in providing input and support into the evolution of the organization.

For more information on this program: Youth Speaks