Aubrey Whelan | The Philadelphia Inquirer | June 2016
As hundreds of teenagers thump into their folding seats in the cavernous downtown theater, the poets of Edison High huddle under the dim lights backstage.
Turn in a pitch-perfect performance today and make the finals. Otherwise, season’s over.
The odds are not with them.
Since February, when this citywide slam poetry competition started, the team from the North Philadelphia school has not once won. While the poets’ desire is palpable, their verses are raw, their delivery sometimes halting.
But every Friday they have showed up anyway, battling much more seasoned, more confident, poets from schools across the city — all because of a promise, made the summer before and mired in the kind of grief that has become a rite of passage where they’re from.
Zaire Douglas, a senior and one of the team’s leaders, reminds them of one thing before they go onstage at the Gershman Y.
“We are doing this,” Zaire says, “for Tyrone.”
Writer bio: Aubrey Whelan is an enterprise reporter for The Inquirer. Whelan, a Lansdale native and Penn State graduate, wrote for the Washington Examiner before joining the Inky in 2012.