Youth Speaks hosts a spoken word event to honor MLK day 

The nonprofit organization Youth Speaks is celebrating its 15th anniversary tonight with a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

The annual performance, "Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," will explore the relationship between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today's generation of teenagers, spokesman John Hill said.

Tonight's event will be at the Herbst Theater at 7 p.m. and will feature performances by original staff members Paul Flores and Aya de Leon, as well as past Grand Slam Champions Rafael Casal and Brian Yoo.

Youth Speaks, which got its start in San Francisco, has the distinction of being the first U.S. organization to host a teen poetry slam, Hill said.

It has been a driving force in spoken word performance, education, and youth development programs, he said.

The organization has grown over the years and now serves more than 45,000 youths locally and more than 250,000 nationally.

It currently includes a literary press, an open-mic series, a reading series, after-school learning programs, college tours, and professional development programs for teachers, Hill said.

"We are proud of all that we have accomplished in our first 15 years, but we are most excited about where we are headed and the great possibilities for our future," said James Kass, founder and executive director of Youth Speaks.

Tonight's event is the first of three spoken-word programs that Youth Speaks is announcing for its 15th anniversary.

Young people from the Bay Area and Northern California will compete in this year's Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam in April and May, Hill said.

Over the course of four weeks, teen writers will vie for the ultimate prize of Grand Slam Champion, Hill said.

In July, Brave New Voices returns to San Francisco, Hill said.

The program is Youth Speaks' best-known event and was twice the subject of an original seven-part documentary on HBO.

Brave New Voices is an international event in which teenagers from all over the world are invited to perform and compete on some of the world's greatest stages, including the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater, and the Disney Concert Hall.

This year, the event returns to the San Francisco opera house. On July 19 through the 23, 600 young poets from more than 50 cities around the country and abroad are scheduled to perform.

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