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Courtesy of @Voces2013
Rhyme and Reason
Urban Verbs trio transforms Voces
What began as a three-man hip-hop performance group has morphed into a 21st century creative learning model for Albuquerque youth. Hakim Bellamy, Carlos Contreras and Colin “Diles” Hazelbaker collaborated in 2009 to create a show called Urban Verbs commemorating their life experiences and how hip-hop brought them together. Fast forward to 2013 and they’re still together, but with an exciting variation on their initial performance theme.
Today the goal of Urban Verbs is to create community and encourage dialogue through the use of hip-hop, poetry and mixed media. “At the root of what we do is create a lot of talk about identity, place and culture. To us, all of those things really revolve around the common ground that we found which is hip-hop,” says Urban Verbs member Carlos Contreras.
The evolution from a performance theater group to an innovative community engagement model has been a source of sustainable funding. “Last month we did a project with Bernalillo County and ABQ Safe Schools’ ‘Don’t Just Stand There’ anti-bullying conference,” says Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque Poet Laureate and Urban Verbs member.
This trio currently serves as facilitators at a four-week writing and performance intensive workshop for youth called Voces. Each incoming class begins their first day in “The Cave,” a dark classroom with boardroom seating, desktops and a projection screen. This is where most of the creative magic materializes, but these energetic students can’t be confined within four drab walls all day. Early on, the entire National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) becomes their creative workspace. Most mornings begin with calisthenics in the outdoor corridor, and afternoons include stage time that prepares students for their individual end-of-program presentation.
According to NHCC Education Director Dr. Shelle Sánchez, Voces’ purpose is to encourage youth to find their voice on the page or on the stage. “We want kids to write, appreciate other people’s writing and stand up and speak powerfully,” says Sánchez.
According to Sánchez, in past years, during a day at Voces you would see and hear students sharing poetry with one another, but not with the world. But 2013 called for an upgrade. “This year, students will improve their writing while incorporating social media, audio and video.” The purpose, she says, is “to create a fusion of writing and mixed media that makes sense for how the next generation of artists will express themselves and share their work.”
Contreras is a testament to the Voces Institute, having begun as a Voces student in its first year. He is now a skilled poet who teaches poetry and literature as a tool to connect with and educate an incarcerated population at Gordon Bernell Charter School in Albuquerque.
Urban Verbs has attracted a new source of funding from an organization called ArtBar by Catalyst Club, an organization that supports edgy local arts organizations and projects. Julia Mandeville, their director of programs and community relations, tapped Urban Verbs for funding at the end of this fiscal year because, she says, they're “going into classrooms and community centers, organizing summer programs for young people in our community and often doing so as a community service or with very limited funds to support their innovative programming.”
Hazelbaker, the collective’s third member, says we should expect to see Urban Verbs working toward creating their own “non-traditional school for the arts where students can come by before or after their normal school day. It will be a space where people can come in, take workshops, hold events, host conferences that cater to the interests of youth—an urban arts academy.”
Voces will hold an end-of-program performance on June 28 at the NHCC Bank of America Theatre. The program is free and open to the public.