By Shirin Rajaee

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Fifteen Sacramento-area students competed in a poetry slam competition Saturday; seven of those students are now headed to an international stage.

The competition took place today at the Crocker Museum, and it’s all part of a program run by UC Davis that helps inspire at-risk youth to find their voice through spoken word.

Poet-mentor educators trained in social justice, literacy, hip hop and spoken word are going into Sacramento area middle and high schools, leaving quite the mark.

UC Davis Professor Vajra Watson started Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) nine years ago.

“Young people said they didn’t have an outlet for their voice and they felt they were growing up in a city that wasn’t listening to them,” said Watson.

Mercy Lagaaia, 18, grew up in Del Paso Heights and has seen some things in her life no child should ever see, including loved ones being killed.

“When you start writing about it, there’s so much pain and anger inside you that you don’t know was even there, and that’s what healing is through writing and spoken word, “said Mercy.

Through pen and paper, these students are taught to be the authors of their own lives.

Mercy adds, “for us to be able to voice that, it’s empowering for us youth.”

On the verge of dropping out, Mercy has now graduated high school and is in college.

In fact, 91 percent of students who participate in SAYS for a year or more graduate and pursue college degrees.

Simone Hall, 16, says she came from a broke family and she has found something more valuable than money.

“Once I started to write and feel what I was writing, I really got in tune with honing in my skills, I found it’s something to be passionate about,” said Simone.

And now 15 of these students took their talents to the big stage.

“I just want to show the world what I have, what skills I have, and I want to educate,” said Simone.

Both Mercy and Simone made it to the finals during the poetry slam Saturday. They will now be part of 7 students, and an alternate who will represent the “SAYS slam team of 2017” at an international competition at UC Berkeley.

For more information about the program, visit:


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