The Green Dot Public Schools California literacy team founded the Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition in 2017 to give Green Dot California students a chance to elevate their voices, express creativity, and build community.
After the showcase for the 6th annual Ánimo Voices Competition, we sat down with Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School senior America Castillo to talk about her first-place spoken word poetry, 'The Lights are My Road.' Throughout the competition, Ánimo Voice’s participants received guidance from teachers. For America, she received support from her guiding teacher, Rachel Kopera, and her classmates, to edit, practice, and perform her story. During her interview, she reflects on Ánimo Voice's theme "About Joy," what it means to tell her story, her process, and her inspiration.
Q:What was your inspiration behind your spoken word poetry?
A: Lights, to me, aren't just shiny lights. They are something that I hope to see when I grow up. For example, I see myself in a house where I can look down and see all the lights from downtown or any like lights. Lights, to me, mean success.
What drove you to compete in the Ánimo Voices competition?
I wasn't sure I wanted to compete. I needed to improve. Last year, I went into a very low place, feeling depressed. All I wanted to do was be alone. When all that started happening with the competition, she [Kopera] inspired me because if she hadn't stayed with me, I wouldn't have done it. At the end, she even asked me, 'If you don't want to do this, we could just drop it here.' But we worked so hard for me to not give up. We stayed in during lunch to work on my beam (writing method). I didn't want to give up, and winning (the competition) helped motivate me and see that there was still more I could do. That's what I'm trying right now in my classes.
What does your writing process look like?
I sat down in class and wrote whatever, but I didn't feel good when I looked at it. I'm a perfectionist. So I reread it and started talking about how I felt. That is how my poem started adding up, and I started and just kept going. It just clicks in my head when I know it is done. Like it just makes sense. Yeah, there's not much to it. It makes sense to me.
Why do you think it's so important to share personal stories?
You'll always connect with your writing. That connection makes people understand because people can tell the difference. I feel like that's your story. That's one way that you could bring your whole self. Writing could be healing, and you could relate to others. It speaks more volumes when it's a part of you than somebody else's work. I don't write it just to write it. I write because that's how I feel, and that's a part of me right there (pointing to paper).
What are things that you've learned through this process?
My voice is powerful—not only in poetry but in school. I have a lot of positions at the school. For example, I'm the prom director and the ASB secretary. I am also an actor, and all these roles and ways I can use my voice show me that there is more to the world than people expect of me. Because everyone's like study, graduate, and go to college. But after I started doing poetry and acting, I felt like something was different, and I could use my voice and be in the spotlight.
However, sometimes, I do get scared. At the end of the day, if you let your fear hold you back from doing what you want, you won't like to get over it. For example, I went to the fair this weekend, and there were scary rides, but I realized that I'm never going to have fun if I don't let go of my fear.