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The Power of Spoken-Word: Transformative Social Justice and Healing in Structurally Oppressed Communities


Spoken-word poetry, and the knowledge we can gain from the poets who perform it speaking of subjective experiences and obstacles, are integral to the successful recovery for members of oppressed communities. Also known as performance poetry, these powerful testimonials often mirror oral traditions such as speaking circles from the African diaspora, Indigenous oral traditions in the Americas, and the spoken-word poetic communities of color and marginalized peoples. Within the spoken-word poetry communities of San Diego, California, community members who have been oppressed by the war on drugs, military policing, mass incarceration, state, interpersonal violence, sexism, racism, poverty, marginalization, and other systemic inequalities, learn from and support one another. This research views spoken-word poetry as public testimonials. I examine what lessons can be learned toward a transformative social justice model for structurally oppressed communities through such community speaking; how spoken-word poetry, as public testimonials, fosters agency and transformational identify construction, creates a sense of community among members of oppressed communities; and how this community nurtures, supports, and teaches its members via the collective community healing process of transformative social justice. This research seeks to understand what we can glean from spoken-word poetry that may inform programming, policy and funding toward transformative social justice initiatives focused on healing communities and their members situated within the matrix of structural oppressions.

Keywords: Critical Criminology, Community Trauma, Structurally Oppressed Communities, Spoken-Word Poetry, Transformative Social Justice

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