Leader in Chicago youth poetry scene speaks at Global Engagement Summit

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

Kevin Coval, a leader in Chicago’s poetry scene, spoke about how hip-hop can inspire and unify the city’s youth during an hour-long talk at the Global Engagement Summit on Friday.

Speaking to more than 100 people in McCormick Auditorium, Coval, artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, touched on several topics including growing up with divorced parents, falling in love with hip-hop, attending open-mic events and ultimately bringing artists together to forge a tightly-knit hip-hop community.  

Roughly 15 years ago, Coval said he realized there was an emerging group of young writers who did not have an organized platform. Around that time, he helped found Louder Than a Bomb, a poetry slam for teenage Chicago-area poets. He said he saw how a creative outlet can change a community.

“We began to keep young people in school,” Coval said. “We gave them the tools of creation, which is what hip-hop has been doing since 1973. It’s taken away guns and drugs and knives and bats and given them spray tans and records and pens and microphones and the brain in order to create something that ultimately the planet has never seen before.”

Coval said he has worked with some of Chicago’s most promising young artists. For example, he said he workshopped lyrics from a young Chance the Rapper — who headlined a show at the Chicago Theatre later that same day.

“We are in the midst of quite literally the most exciting time in the history of Chicago music,” Coval said. “This is saying a lot, considering Muddy Waters came to Chicago, plugged in and made the blues electrify. … Chicago right now is poppin’”

Coval spoke as part of GES, an annual conference that brings together students from multiple continents for workshops and lectures that aim to promote empowerment and social change.

Weinberg seniors Kyle Allen-Niesen and Diego Henriquez-Garcia, co-directors of GES, said they see Coval as a bridge between an internationally-focused conference and the work going on just outside “the Northwestern bubble.”

“He is part of an incredible artistic movement that is happening in our own backyard, and you can participate in it,” Allen-Niesen said. “We are hoping that some of the experiences that he has had in his stories can inspire some of our delegates who are not from Northwestern as an example of someone who took art and tried to impact his community.”

Allen-Niesen also said although most workshops are closed off from the public to focus on the delegates, the GES executive board felt it was important for the entire NU community to have a chance to hear from Coval, stressing that his message has a broad appeal.

“Realizing the power of your own voice and that no matter what age you are or where you are on some socioeconomic or power strata, you can still make change by the words that come out of your mouth,” Henriquez-Garcia said.

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