Yadry Monsanto is a student at Urban Assembly Media High School who participated in the April 25 Hamilton Education Program in New York City.
When I arrived at the Richard Rodgers Theatre to participate in the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Hamilton Education Program (HEP) on April 25, I was nervous for several reasons, but mostly because I was going to perform on a Broadway stage by myself in front of several hundred fellow New York City high school students. By myself!
Throughout the ride to the theater, my teachers and peers reassured me that I was going to do fine. After all, they knew of my past performances at talent shows at our school, Urban Assembly Media High School. But this feeling was different. My friends did their best to distract me from my nerves, but they were unsuccessful in their efforts. When I arrived backstage and saw so many (mostly) unfamiliar faces in the audience, I knew this was real and I was about to share my poem that I worked so hard on with them.
I was confident in my project. My primary source subject was Phillis Wheatley. Not many people know about this poet from the Revolutionary War period, but she was the first published African-American female poet. I decided to talk to about Wheatley’s personal history in context of what is happening in our country today. I thought about how she may have felt that she was naive when she was alive.
Her America was a young country she was proud of, but she may have some criticisms for today’s America. The main point of the speech was to highlight the various movements that occurred as the years passed and everything in her country that she now regrets. There was a lot research about modern movements as well as civil rights. It was very nerve-racking to even start the poem. A few days before the "Hamilton" performance, I was talking with a friend about how proud I was and how confident I was about our spoken piece. Before the student performances, we were all asked to pose for photos. As the photographer did his thing, I loved hearing not just my friends, but strangers cheering me on and that gave me more confidence. Backstage I was able to meet a lot of amazing people, each with wonderful personalities. I was even able to make a few friends.
When it was time for my performance and heard them call my name and school, I confidently walked on stage and smiled. I got courage from hearing my peers and teachers cheering me on from two floors up. When I started reciting my piece, I knew I had to be bold because I was trying to convey a bold message with the spoken word.
As I spoke those words of importance, I felt stronger and bolder. As I was saying my critical message, I could hear people encouraging me with every serious point. When I finished my poem I was very happy, and as I walked to my seat, a lot of people complimented me and my poem.
After the student performances and lunch, we had the opportunity to watch the musical "Hamilton" and to see first-hand everything we had been studying in class. As I watched the show, I learned so many things about the importance of Alexander Hamilton and the role he played in the American Revolution. There were a lot of stories we weren’t even able to get to in class. It broadened my understanding of history and helped me understand the historical figures.
Yadry's original poem, "Phyllis Wheatley Spoken Word"
Let's take it from the start,
I, Phillis Wheatley
Was sold as a child, into slavery,
Captured and thrown on a ship Sent to the Wheatley's
At only 8 years old.
And even then, I still had hope
After 12 years, I was finally free.
Yet still the hope I am given
By his excellency I was driven,
Great General Washington helped me experience Columbia's thirst tor boundless power.
However, when alive I praised him and his glory
While dead I realized the uncanny.
I still find it funny
I am still able to find
That the man and the country
I praised and loved
Didn’t love me back.
It's ridiculous that to this day
I can't forgive myself for being so naive.
He had other people bound to him
Not as friends, but as slaves.
It's disappointing to say I'm glad I died young
I wasn’t able to experience all the wrongs
The country has done.
Using the Blacks as a pawn in your game
And the assassination of MLK.
And even if I were living today
I would still have to be protesting
To show that my life still meant something.
236 years ago, I died
And yet this country is still struggling
With a form of oppression
And systematic racism.
Yet, “Equality feels like oppression
When you’re accustomed to privilege.”
Maybe this is why
We still have that problem today.