Jori Cotton, who grew up in North Avondale, says she wrote poetry to express her feelings and struggles throughout high school. When she went to college at The Ohio State University
, however, she took a step back from her poetry. She attended open mic nights, she says, but performing wasn’t for her.
“I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for me to get up there,” Cotton says. “I was just taking the art in.”
After graduating college, Cotton returned to Cincinnati, and one of the first places she says she went was to another poetry open mic session. And in October of 2006, she finally performed.
“I’ve just been addicted ever since,” says Cotton, who now leads Voices of Freedom
—a spoken word program at Elementz
The non-profit Elementz, which is located downtown in OTR, provides a safe place and a creative outlet for young people who want to turn the negative influences or surroundings in their lives into positives.
“I like to give a voice to what you may call the underdog,” Cotton says. “I like to expose the truth—things that have happened historically—I like to let people know about how to reach their higher self and to believe in themselves and take time to work through emotions. We’ve all been through things, but we have to work through them.”
Cotton’s group of 10, which is composed of participants who are primarily between the ages of 16 and 24, meets for two hours once per week.
“One of the things about spoken word is getting the juices flowing about our story, so we take time to talk,” Cotton says. “We talk about the disparities in education; we’ve talked about gun violence, rape victims, some of the good things and not so good things that have taken place in Cincinnati. We talk about domestic violence, just real issues—relationships, self esteem—we talk about pretty much everything.”
Once everyone’s had time to talk, they put their words onto paper and then share their work in a judgment-free environment, which Cotton says is important to her because it allows everyone to feel empowered. It’s usually the shyest ones who end up sharing some of the most powerful ideas, she says.
“It just gives them hope that the environment they’re in right now isn’t the best, but it can get better,” Cotton says. “Spoken word helps you feel confident when you get up there and you’re sharing your pieces, and that confidence will spill over into other areas of life.”
Elementz by making a donation.
• Learn about the various programs
offered at Elementz, and show up during a session to see if the program is the right fit for you. The first visit is free, and if you enjoy yourself, become a member.
• If you're a teen, celebrate National Poetry Month by submitting one of your pieces to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's Random Acts of Poetry
one of Jori Cotton's spoken word workshops at the library.
• Support Elementz by attending their monthly showcase
, which takes place on the third Thursday of each month.
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.