The room is quiet for once, attention now directed at the single spotlight on the platform. The MC announces in a voice that seems to slice through each of those present, “And next to come to the stage: give it up for San Gabriel!” The girl who is to go up, inhales deeply, taking a whiff of the perfume she spritzed on before her last performance and flips open her notebook to the page marked by a photograph with a toddler and her mother. She clutches it tightly, for seemingly the last time and rises from the seat, her eyes directed at her team then back at the stage with a fierce determination.
Erika Hope Duran has been a spoken word artist since one of San Gabriel High School’s (SGHS) own poets performed in her sophomore English class. Inspired by their considerate yet explicit words, she auditioned to make it onto SGHS ‘s slam team, Young Aspiring Writers with Power (YAWP), and became an official member. Two years later, now a senior, she was motivated to audition to be a Get Lit Player (GLP), a position granted to only a select few individuals to represent the Los Angeles area.
“The responsibilities of being a GLP are being passionate about poetry, being an advanced writer, performer, being punctual, and professional overall,” Duran said.
To receive the role, one has to perform three poems -two of which must be originals- and audition at the Get Lit offices. There is also the challenge to beat out the other competitors, which range in levels of experience performing and writing.
“Outside of school, I’m [at the Get Lit offices] one to two times every week working on poetry or film projects,” Duran said. “It’s such a safe space and the people are insanely welcoming. I love it.”
As noted, she has been going to Saturday classes that are held in downtown LA since last year, becoming more than just a poet but also a director in projects involving poetry. Some may be found in the organization’s YouTube channel under the Write To Riot series. The program itself has provided more blessings than she could have possibly imagined at first impression.
“The Get Lit program has essentially given me a home in times where my house couldn’t,” Duran said. “Every team practice has been like a therapy session, and sometimes I feel like spoken word in general has been one of the only things that has given me the motivation to keep living.”
Regarding her actual writing, she says that it brings relief and comfort. Her team, fellow poets, coaches, and siblings also help her mental health substantially, but writing it out brings about the opportunity to self-heal.
“If there is an issue in my life that I can’t seem to understand, I write to get through it,” Duran said. “I write about body image, PTSD, the loss of my mom, growing up too fast, sexuality, and more.”
It is more than just a means to go on, Duran also writes in an effort to encourage others like her.
“I’ve found so much [sanctuary] in the fact that I’m able to write out my feelings and help others feel less alone,” Duran said. “With poetry, I’m able to understand my emotions and share my life experiences with people who need to hear them.”
The Get Lit organization has the objective to “fuse classic and original poetry to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities,” according to their Instagram bio. As noted by Duran’s own experience, it has done so much more, coming to unite people and tell stories that they are told so often to keep in the dark. They are given an audience to be able to complete this objective, so that it is not limited to certain communities.
“A lot of GLPs perform at venues like the Hollywood Bowl, the White House, Dodger Stadium, and Warped tour,” Duran said. “Some also get opportunities to travel and work with huge companies.”
With all this in mind, much like her middle name, the student body “hope”s that Erika will slam hard on every stage she sets foot on. No doubt with time she will become an even stronger poet and set the world ablaze with her works.