As the students and teachers poured into the auditorium, Jalen Sharp and 11 other sophomores excitedly waited to perform. They could hear the murmur of people finding their seats from behind the curtain as they did tongue twisters before the show. Sharp had been selected along with 11 others to participate in the Sophomore Slam out of the entire sophomore class. He, along with the other students worked hard for weeks with teachers Peter Kahn and Christian Robinson, the Spoken Word program mentors. In the end, Sharp was the champion.
“Overall, it was a strong slam, everybody did well,” said Kahn. “All the finalists did well, the audience was great. He (Sharp) seemed to be the crowd’s favorite as well as the judges’ favorite, which doesn’t always happen.”
Sharp’s winning poem was titled “Money.” When talking about his poem, Sharp said, “I was in a mind-space of, what are the effects of money? What have the effects of money have shown for not only my situation but others too? Talking about how the white man controls the money, and the black man’s goal is the money.” He added, “I wanted them to think about money in a different way. Not just something you can buy things with.”
Sharp’s goal was to show people how different types of people see money, how money is more obtainable for some than others just based on the color of their skin. A line from the poem that Sharp talked about was “We had so many rainy days but it didn’t rain money” which he says is “about me and my mother. When we first moved to Chicago, we were broke. So what I used to do was go to my granny’s house to eat dinner because we couldn’t really afford to get dinner.”
Sharp said he’s been interested in hip hop since he was 4. He explains how he used to watch a show kind of like Spoken Word. “An open mic, it was a stage floor of people where they could just present poetry, and present raps and present their art. One thing I liked about it, it was open, and it was predominantly black. It really gave my people an opportunity, who are not like the Drakes of the world, who are not like the Kendrick Lamars of the world, to show they have talent, that they have a voice. It inspired me to pursue music around 7 years old.”
Although Sharp was young, he still appreciated good lyrics, even if he didn’t fully understand them. “I didn’t know exactly what was going on so I had to ask her what’s happening and what certain words meant.” So together they sat, either in the living room couch or his mom’s bed, while Sharp asked his mom questions about “what certain lines meant… what these words meant.” Sharp’s mother was also one of the main reasons he used to read the dictionary. Sharp wanted to expand his vocabulary so he went to the best book for that purpose. “I was the only third grader that knew what an encyclopedia was or what meticulous meant,” he says.