The Institutional Core Values of American Samoa Community College (ASCC) state the goal of students learning to become effective communicators, critical thinkers, global citizens and responsible leaders. All of these qualities involve an engagement with pressing social issues. Last week’s “Liuliu le Tofa” Poetry Slam at the College gave students from both ASCC and the public high schools the opportunity to express their views on domestic/sexual violence and related issues through the medium of poetry, song, and spoken word performance.
The Poetry Slam was hosted by activist and artist Doris Tulifau of the organization Brown Girl Woke, in collaboration with the Alliance for Strengthening Families and the ASCC campus groups Health & Human Services, Fresh Print, Peer Mentors, and the Student Government Association. The organizers translate “Liuliu le Tofa” as “Change their mindsets, change their words, and change their actions.” The philosophical underpinning of the events like the Poetry Slam is the belief that only an open expression and discussion of domestic/sexual violence and related issues can break through the wall of silence that has long surrounded these problems.
In preparation for the Slam, Tulifau spent several weeks holding open-door workshops at ASCC as well as Samoana and Tafuna High Schools to provide interested student participants with feedback and encouragement as they developed their poems, songs and spoken word pieces. This detailed preparation lent a refreshing stylistic variety to the resulting event, as the Slam featured not only traditional poetry but also music, monologues, and group performances. Before an appreciative, lively audience that filled the ASCC Multipurpose Center Auditorium, some performers addressed the topic of domestic/sexual violence directly, while others focused on related issues ranging from infant stillbirth to favoritism in the local schools.
Following an opening address by special guest and sexual violence survivor Jennot Plessy, dozens of performers from both ASCC and the high schools took turns onstage while a panel of judges rated each performance. Judges for the Slam were private consultant Kenneth Kuaea, Fono representative Samuel Meleisea, renowned Samoan actor Uelese Petaia (who most recently starred in the acclaimed film with an anti-violence message “One Thousand Ropes”), KHJ Radio General Manager Joey Cummings, Miss American Samoa and ASCC Student Magalita Johnson and newly crowned Miss ASCC Grace Lagai. The new Miss ASCC also gave a guest performance, reprising her solo spoken word piece on infant stillbirth which had previously left the audience deeply moved during the Miss ASCC Pageant.
After nearly two hours of performances, the judges announced the first, second and third place winners. A group of five Samoana High School students from the class of Mrs. Gago took first place for their performance piece “Favoritism,” while coming in second and third respectively were ASCC students Stina Scanlan and Avery Mao.
“We built on the enthusiasm from the Poetry Slam we had earlier this year,” reflected Tulifau afterwards. “I’m especially encouraged that this time more adults than before joined us for the Slam, which gives me hope that they’ll listen to what Samoa’s young people have to say about the problems they face. We’re encouraging young people to speak out on important issues through the medium of artistic expression, because we believe that speaking out and taking ownership of your personal beliefs forms the basis of good citizenship.”
Tulifau also commended the judges, who had the difficult task of deciding which of the many compelling performances should take top honors. “We also had a great panel of judges,” she said. “Some of them, like Miss American Samoa and Miss ASCC, directly represent the youth. Others, like Rep. Meleisea and Kenneth Kuaea who organizes town hall meetings, are in a position where they can use these young voices to help change policies and laws to benefit everyone.”
To find out more about Tulifau’s activities, she maintains an active web presence on Facebook, as well as her site https://www.browngirlwoke.net.