TEDxUCLA 2015: Beyond the Box

Spoken word, shaping space


About Kamil 

In 2015, Kamil was a first-year UCLA undergraduate student and spoken word activist. She served in the Afrikan Student Union and as a research intern at the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. She was deeply involved in the local LA community through organizations such as the UCLA Community Programs Office and the Community Coalition. Today, she continues her arts activism to inspire social change.  


S-P-O-K-E-N W-O-R-D. Spoken word. Truth enacted on stage. Using rhythmic tones and powerful cadence, words that live in the voice freed from the ink of a page.

But what is it really? Is it an oxymoronic phrase? I speak everyday words. So really, what is the difference between speech and speaking the word?

The word is truth emerged, spoken to be remembered and learned. Spoken word is articulating your truth uncaged, projecting your reflections and experiences to invite empathy, not sympathy, with your communities engaged, to change the world through the word.

In the end, you will remember the spoken words, like you remember proverbs from songs, mantras, stories from friends, epics, sayings, because they connect you to a truth, or openly acknowledge an unexpressed pain. Yes, those words were written, but they were said most powerfully.

And how and why they were said makes them stick. Like “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well today, I pose sticks and stones may break our bones, but the word will always heal we and reveal to me a truth that’s often unseen, concealed from the mainstream society.

Spoken word speaks with the intention to shape and feel, reveal the truth that usually only lives unknown and alone within us. It is a way to project the unheard, educate the world from the personal perspective of your truth in your own customly curated words — rhythmically, carefully, and beautifully — so they stick.

A spoke literally means “the bars of a wheel that connect the center to its outer edge.” Practice speaking in a way that connects your inner truth to the outer reality. Choose to shape what is usually believed. What’s said about you isn’t always said through you, nor reflective of the self known to be personally true.

Spoken word: a way to connect deeply with others by listening, then realizing a similar truth within ourselves. It speaks to the audience and the human language of feeling that everyone can understand. The way I speak can be enhanced by a beat, but not encased by it. It’s not just rap, or rap at all as we know it today.

Many of us fail to understand rap is commercial, construed hip-hop that’s become a rehearsal of descriptions through rhymes that’s personal, not universal. Though to the unaware ear, it may sound the same, spoken word isn’t about me, my name or fame. Not to dismiss rap, I love it. But the word is not defined by a beat, speed, or egotistical need. It is judged by the ability of the speakers to deeply and creatively present the truth of their experiences.

Two, it’s not conventional poetry, more like fluctuating floetry. Not the modernist, often Eurocentric works we read that requires predisposed knowing of a particular class or creed. Nor is it always abstract, encoded with hidden messages within its emotional contracts. Overtly elevated diction can cause intellectual friction and can cause the heart to reject understanding to the inability to frankly react, or easily listen.

These words are spoken, not just read or usually said. Spoken word requires human interaction, emotion and logic, and expansion and contraction. The speaker speaks to you with power, and the human language of feeling that all can understand, and the language they feel that’s accessible, it’s knowledge made accessible, words that’ll educate and heal.

The audience is elevated beyond just the reader. We practice acting the part every day and on stage like a verbal revolutionary theater. Spoken word makes all of us the writers so we may edit our reality beyond the perspectives of others and go higher.

Through speaking the word, understanding and empathy are required and made possible. Borders and generalizations are the only thing improbable, poetically illogical. Recognizing the truth within yourself and others makes the word’s ability to modify and unify unstoppable. Language un-industrialized, unstructured to sound a right or wrong way, everyday words are repetitive.

Our speech has been colonized. We don’t, or we often don’t feel, we haven’t been given or don’t have the correct phrases to describe how we feel, which detracts from our ability to heal the pains we conceal. The word affirms they’re real. Real issues, real opinions, widely felt, and able to strongly affect at the use and choice of our words.

And just like that, I became a spoken-word activist, a social truth reporter transformed from a silent, scared pacifist. Nothing about spoken word is passive. Retract the urge to be non-reactive. It is the linguistic art of active voice. Not just to elevate — actually, actually to elevate — not just to navigate, but to elevate.

How do we usually choose to use our speech? Not to reflect on our experiences or rejoice, but to work, put in orders, execute directions in a structured, orderly, timely fashion. But where is our passion? Suppressed under the stressful need to impress and compose a nice story from what really is happening.

Our stories going unseen is obscene. What we have to report is important. Today’s news is usually told by those with the power to speak without the care to consciously listen, failing to uncover what they’ve allowed to remain hidden: the people’s truth. Which is the politically easy route, representations meant to mislead.

A true expression of ourselves from our own mouths is what we all need, which is what practicing the word naturally provides. The ability to shape our world through reshaping our understanding of ourselves. Our role, sharing the truth of our experience, is a contribution we must no longer hide.

Through spoken word, we can begin to honestly see ourselves and give others the beautiful privilege to do the same. Ask ourselves, who’s starring in my story versus who’s writing it. Are these characters me? Do I abide by easy-to-say lies? Why allow ourselves to remain unrealized? Speak your own story. Report your truth on stage without an intention to simply interest or please. Speak on your needs, goals, dreams. Reveal the soulspective that only you from your eyes has seen.

But be sure to respect it. To respect is to project, to reveal to others the realness of your being in a way that refuses to be objected or ignored. From your own challenges and privileges, explore more. Verbally illustrate the cause worth applause that you feel worth fighting for.

Extra! Extra! Speak truth and be all about it. You, through your experiences, become the face of the front page. A reporter of truthful order undefined by a certain platform because you set your own stage. Share to empathetically engage, it’s what the open mic seeks to be filled with and expects. Shape your world through a willingness to acknowledge truth and project.

Let’s practice. I am what I speak. Reflective and active. I am what I speak. Reflective and active.

Reflect on your past, present, and affirm your future reality. Feel it. See it. Acknowledge that you have been or will be it. Then you define for yourself and to the world as your audience what’s next. Enlivened by personal context, become what you project. Sit with all of your experiences and reflect. How do I feel? How can it be explained, not contained, so the entire world knows that it’s real?

Provide for your audience your own background through the world as healing found. No bounds on the spoken stage. We can cry, verbally dream, read, whisper, speak crisper, or scream. Whatever is needed to identify or change your present normality by reporting any formality. Speak on truthful sadness or celebration beyond emotional assimilation and choose to become an MC, the master of your daily ceremony, and then define and then realign the characters we feel made to be.

And the people will snap. Snapping their humanity back intact. To snap is to agree to act. Allow the audience to feed back. Let each clap fuel you towards becoming the change in your world you are presenting yourself to be. We are the yes, the change we have been waiting for. Through speaking we see that our truth is key. We open up entirely and step up to something much greater.

On stage, we are allowed to be beyond social expectations of acceptability in a way that reconnects ourselves to align with human empathy. The audience will feel your experiences as a meaningful art and challenge the image of you they constructed in their minds and now believe in their heart.

Saying yes to speaking truth is a socially just start. Agreeing to get on stage is refusing to be scared of who we are and agreeing to dynamically engage and take part in the change. Practice believing, your words carry meaning, express them openly with wholehearted feeling. Dare to share your truth and perspective amongst a social collective, and allow them to shift stagnant old perspectives.

And if you can’t say your truth aloud, you don’t yet believe it. Which means you can’t yet be it. But just because you haven’t, it hasn’t been spoken by you, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the rights, the human rights to your own story. Don’t let anyone louder — and not necessarily more aware because they’re in power — speak up for you and assume glory.

Speak the word when you’re ready to make it real. Shape your environment and change how others have been told to feel. It’s only after acknowledging for real what’s going on within and around us that we can make anything right.

So let’s obliterate misconceptions and truthfully write. Fall in love with your own narrative. Don’t let anyone retain it. Speak on your community’s challenges, your surroundings. We have the power to reflect and reframe it because learning to speak freely is a remedy that can shift the world that others see. And the spoken word will empower you and inspire change to be.

So today, change the way your thumbs usually touch the phone screen or a pen and write about you. Your environment, the truthful state you’re in. Just like me — I try to, but, you know, write every day, once a month when you can. But respect it and fearlessly project it, not as a secret but as art through public response.

Practice speaking truthful words. Refuse to be unheard. Shape your space by reshaping your speech and words. Seek to change our world. Because sticks and stones may break our bones, but the word will always heal we. Allow the sticks and stones thrown to pave your story’s way. We are the most qualified to speak our truth and shape our surroundings. By the word we are highered, uplifted, consciousness shifted from silent pacifists to budding spoken-word activists.

We are the truth. We are the truth. And we are here to stay. We are the truth and we are here to stay. We have all begun today. Peace and thank you, TEDxUCLA.