Frequently Asked Questions

> When was Youth Speaks founded?
Youth Speaks was founded by James Kass, in 1996 in San Francisco. Kass still serves as the Executive Director.

> What is the mission of Youth Speaks?
Through the intersection of arts education and youth development practices, civic engagement strategies, and high quality artistic presentation, Youth Speaks creates safe spaces that challenge young people to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of positive societal change.

Youth Speaks exists to shift the perceptions of youth by combating illiteracy, isolation, alienation, and silence, creating a global movement of brave new voices bringing the noise from the margins to the core.

> Is Youth Speaks a national organization?
Yes, we are a national organization, but remain committed to the Bay Area, CA as our home.

> When was the first Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam?
The first Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam, which was also the first teen poetry slam in the country, took place for over 3 weeks in April of 1997 in San Francisco. This slam featured 43 young poets.

> What other national programs does Youth Speaks have?
Youth Speaks has a number of National Programs that are designed to activate our Brave New Voices Network. Included in these programs are Vocal Application and Civic Engagement Campaigns, aimed at creating some form of social change. Currently these National Programs include:

Youth Speaks has also been working for years to help create other programs that work in our model across the country. In addition to Youth Speak NY (now known as Urban Word), Youth Speaks Seattle, Youth Speaks Hawai’I, Youth Speaks Wisconsin, Youth Speaks Nashville, and Youth Speaks Sacramento, we have helped to build over 50+ programs throughout the US and around the world.

Beyond our partners and affiliates, we also tour Living Word Project repertory pieces nationally, and send poets and professionals out across the country to colleges and conferences. We are excited to announce that we are currently in the process of launching new initiatives in the near future! For more info on all of Youth Speaks programs, please visit our website.

> What is the Emerging Arts Fellowship?
The Emerging Arts Fellowship is a two-year professional development program in the San Francisco Bay Area. It includes an annual stipend of up to $34,000, health care, and significant training and support. Emerging Arts Fellows work 4 days per week in a combination program where they receive artistic and leadership training and help to produce the National Performance Programs of the organization. For more info:

> What is Life is Living?
LIFE IS LIVING is a free celebration of urban life through hip hop, intergenerational health, and environmental action. LIFE IS LIVING establishes a new model for partnerships between diverse and under-resourced communities, green action agencies, and the contemporary arts world.

> Who are Youth Speaks’ major funders?
Youth Speaks is generously funded in part by San Francisco Grants For the Arts, Clorox Company Foundation, Kimball Foundation, San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, San Francisco Foundation, Silver Giving Foundation, Stanley S. Langendorf Foundation, W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation, William And Flora Hewlett Foundation, and individuals who believe in the power of the word when it is in the hands of young people.

> What is the breakdown of Youth Speaks funding?
Youth Speaks receives about 44% individuals, 41% foundations, 12% earned revenue, 3% government, less than 1% corporate.

> How many youth does Youth Speaks serve?
Demographics of youth served (as per recent audit, San Francisco Bay Area)
Approximately 200,000 per year nationally:
Total: 43,200 (2007-08)
Age: 13 – 24
51% Male
49% Female
81% of school-aged youth are eligible for free or reduced school lunch program
34% African-American
22% Latino
23% Asian-American
8% Pacific Islander
7% White, non-Hispanic
1% Native-American
5% Other

> What is the relationship to other organizations across the country?
Youth Speaks helped establish many of the programs across the country, helping to raise initial money, giving models for program design, serving as fiscal sponsors and even paying staff salaries. Now, each organization operates independently, raising their own money and adopting program models to their local communities. Among the Brave New Voices network, we have chapters (which carry the Youth Speaks name), and affiliates. As the largest organization doing the work, Youth Speaks works to support all of these programs to the best of our ability.

> Does Youth Speaks offer professional development for teachers and arts educators?
Yes, we currently run a Poet Mentor Apprenticeship program in addition to a pedagogical training in partnership with University of San Francisco’s School of Education, First Sound Institute. Visit for the most up-to-date information about materials, trainings, and resources we offer.

> I’m interested in joining the Youth Speaks Board or one of its committees. How do I go about doing this?
We are always looking for people who bring particular skill sets to our Board of Directors and/or the Committees of the Board, as well as our advisory board. If you are interested, please contact our Executive Director Cristy Johnston Limón at or by email to

> I’m not in the Bay Area – how do I get involved?
We have a robust national network with several opportunities for engagement. Check out our National Programs and find out how to get involved.

> I’d like to bring Youth Speaks to my event or school. What do I do?
If you go to our website at, you will find a Book Youth Speaks button, which will give you all of the options to bring Youth Speaks to your school, your event, your theater, etc.

> I am an artist who is doing a project for school and would love to use Youth Speaks poems or poets. How do I make this possible?
Please see our Booking Request Page.

> I would like to collaborate with Youth Speaks. Who do I speak to?

– Inquiries (local community engagement) please see our Booking Request Page.

– Inquiries Bigger Picture, contact

– Inquiries Off/Page, contact

-Inquires R.A.I.S.E Up, American Graduate programs,

-Inquires Theater, Life is Living, National Touring,

– Inquiries Brave New Voices Festival please contact and visit the Brave New Voices website at

> How do I get involved?
No matter where you are, there are opportunities for you – either through local programs or through a series of online programs Youth Speaks is developing. The best way to know what’s coming up is to go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. This way, we’ll let you know all about the various opportunities as they arise.

> How do I volunteer for Youth Speaks/donate my services?
We are always looking for volunteers to lend their expertise, time and passion in service of our mission. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact As a note, we rarely bring volunteers into our workshop program.

> I am interested in employment at Youth Speaks. Are you hiring?
Check the Youth Speaks website every so often for new postings in the About Us/Jobs section of the site. For information about becoming a poet member or a member of our Youth Advisory Board, please contact Susie Lundy at

> I run/would like to run a spoken word club in a different part of the country. Where do I find funding/Where do I get started?
Please feel free to look at the foundations and sources who fund us, and if appropriate, you may want to ask some to support your group. Remember though, preparation is the key to approaching foundations. We highly recommend that you visit the Foundation Center’s website for information on writing a grant proposal and a letter of interest.

We are happy to support your programs interest in developing a spoken word organization. One way to start is through participation in Brave New Voices, where we do organizational development trainings. At BNV, you will meet other people from around the country doing the work, and will pick up all kinds of pointers. To learn how to start a nonprofit organization, go online to the Nonprofit Center at

> Is there a list where I can find affiliate programs around the nation so that I can contact them to get involved with spoken word?
Please contact Natasha Huey at for more information.

> What is a poetry slam?
A poetry slam is a mock Olympic-style poetry competition. Poets perform their poems for about 3 minutes and then are “judged” by a panel of 5 judges based on the quality of the writing, the content of the piece, and the performance. While we all recognize how ridiculous it is to put points on a poem, it is a lot of fun and brings a lot of new writers and new audiences to the shows. Youth Speaks produced the first Youth Poetry Slam in the country.

> Does Youth Speaks do more than the poetry slam?
Yes, the poetry slam is only one small part of what we do. All year long, we offer youth workshops, mentoring, non-competitive performances, job skills, theater development, civic engagement and youth development programs. Check out for all that we do.

> I want my students to compete in competitions. How do I make this possible?
Online registration can be found through our website during slam season at

> I would like to donate some office equipment. How do I do this?
Please contact our Chief Operations Officer, Paula Smith Arrigoni, at

> I’m a young writer in the Bay Area. How do I get involved with Youth Speaks?
Youth Speaks offers youth (13-19 years old) in the Bay Area free programs throughout the week. We facilitate free writing and performance workshops on Wednesdays in SF and Thursdays on both sides of the Bay. No registration is required. Each workshop runs from 4-6pm. Go to for a complete schedule. Additionally, we host two Under-21 Open Mics a month in Oakland and San Francisco. For other events, updates, and performance schedules, check out our website at, subscribe to Youth Speaks on the main page for monthly updates, or check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

> How do I give to Youth Speaks?
You can make secure only donations through our website, or give our Executive Director, James Kass, a call at 415.255.9035 ext. 11. For other ideas of how to support Youth Speaks, go to

> I love what you do! How can I help spread the word?
Thank you. Bring your friends to our events, have them check out our website, and point them to our social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). For any other general questions, please send an email to .