tobeheardEveryone deserves a chance to be heard, to express her voice. But claiming opportunities to rise above competing voices and interests, in society or at Smith, can be a challenge.

For three characters in a film titled To Be Heard, the solution was found in the form of poetry, writing and reciting. To Be Heard documents the lives of three teenagers from the South Bronx, who find power and transformation through their poetic expressions. The film follows the three teens, Pearl, Karina and Anthony, for four years as they overcome sizable obstacles to become accomplished, self-aware artists.

A screening of To Be Heard, on Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium, will kick off a two-day symposium, “To Be Heard: Breaking Out of Literary Prison,” that will give Smith students and others in the college community opportunities to speak out about race, class, and other issues addressed in the film.

To Be Heard highlights the necessity for programs that foster creativity and freedom of expression,” notes Nia Spooner ’13, who, with Marie Hoffman Jones ’13, is coordinating the “To Be Heard” symposium. “We hope attendees will become aware of issues in the United States’ educational system, particularly for children from low-income neighborhoods and inner-city schools such as the South Bronx school profiled in the film.”

To Be Heard, the winner of numerous film festival awards, was directed and produced by Roland Legiardi-Laura, a documentary filmmaker, poet and educator, who developed Power Poetry, the New York City public schools program featured in the film; Amy Sultan, director of the Power Writers Program at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café in New York; and Joe Ubiles, educational director for Power Writers. The New York Times called To Be Heard “one of the best documentaries of the year.”

The film will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers, and with Pearl Quick, one of the characters in the film. Quick, now 24, was born and raised in New York City. A spoken-word poet, Quick teaches poetry and attends Sarah Lawrence College.

The symposium will continue on Tuesday, March 5, with a panel discussion, at 6:30 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room, featuring the filmmakers and Quick discussing racism, classism, educational inequality and other topics. Refreshments will be served.

Following the panel, at 7:30 p.m. in the Poetry Center, Wright Hall, Pearl Quick will join Smith students for a poetry slam.

The symposium events are free and open to all.

To Be Heard is, most importantly, a film about how language links people. Pearl, Karina and Anthony build an unlikely bond, at first tenuous, based on language, respect, and the need to survive.

Dealing with many inequalities, the three characters find mutual support in what was supposed to be a school punishment: a poetry writing program called Power Poetry. There, they discover a forum for expressing their frustrations.

When they first saw To Be Heard, both Spooner and Jones were struck by the power that poetry played in the characters’ lives. Spooner is now teaching poetry to elementary students, while Jones works with Power Poetry and partcipates in slams at the Nuyorican Café.

The “To Be Heard” symposium is sponsored by the Black Students Alliance, Poetry Center, Poetry Concentration, the Poetry Slam Organization, and the departments of American studies, film studies, education, history and English language and literature.