Spoken word poet, writer and college student Connie Martinez reflects on her experience giving a TEDx Talk.
At the age of 17: Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient to become a Nobel Peace prize winner. Lydia Ko ranked third among pro women golfers (AND she’s the youngest millionaire in Ladies Professional Golf Association history), Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor (most commonly known by her stage name Lorde) had sold 1.33 million copies of her album Pure Heroin. And me? I gave a TEDx Talk.
Back in December of 2014, I realized I wasn’t completely accomplishing my high school senior year goals: to find happiness, to break off the rest of my shell, and end my last year on the right foot. I was missing one thing, showing people something that meant so much to me–my writing. That month during my winter break, I wrote like crazy because I knew the only chance I would have to showcase my writing would be in a school assembly or something of that sort and I had to have something to perform. When February came around, I took the opportunity to recite two poems at my school’s Black History Month assembly. It was a bold move to perform for the first time and having it be in front of my entire school, but the audience reaction was like no other.
My performance started conversations between staff and students, and essentially created an image for me (the poet) that started a domino effect.
Then my art teacher received an email about speakers, artists, and poets, being wanted for TEDxPasadenaWomen. That email made the rounds at school and found its way to my inbox from another teacher of mine because she felt it was something “just for me,” having seen my performance at the assembly. I was very skeptical being just a kid in high school compared to all the adults I’ve seen give talks. No way I was going to be accepted! But I was.
The months leading up to the TEDx event were surreal. I had speaking coaches who supported me every step of the way and helped me in putting together my talk. But even with all the support I had, I was still a bit doubtful. Going into the event, I wasn’t sure that my talk would have any impact or if people would even listen for that matter. I mean, I hadn’t even lived a quarter of my life yet, or experienced half of what the other speakers had. Alyesha Wise a published poet, was way more talented and experienced in spoken word poetry than I was. Tembi Locke a well known actress was scheduled to speak right before me (and would ultimately bring the audience to tears with her talk), and all the others had way more impactful stories to tell than I did.
Ironically, my talk was about the power of using your voice and the importance of it, but here I was doubtful of my own.
Strangely, that morning when I woke up it felt like just any other day. But the moments leading up to my talk were completely different. Scheduled last in the program, I was on the side of the stage waiting, watching the speakers go up one after another before me which made the wait even more difficult, but I was also inspired by what each of them had to share. When nerves struck me I would take glances at my friend who accompanied me and she gave me reassuring smiles that everything was going to be okay. And then I would look into the audience where my teacher and vice principal were sitting, also giving me reassuring smiles. Needless to say that boosted my confidence, and having the three of them there to support me made it special.
Then it was my turn. When I finished with my closing poem, and did a metaphorical mic drop in my head, I was stunned as the audience rose to their feet and gave me a standing ovation. I quite literally burst into tears because it was so unexpected. Something that I had hidden from so many people for so long, I was able to show again, and the reaction was as great as that first time at my school assembly.
When the event ended, the amount of praise and compliments were truly amazing. I even got a couple “thank yous” which threw me off. Why was I being thanked? I should be thanking everyone for just listening, because that’s all I wanted. There’s no point in using my voice if no one is around to hear it. A couple of the thank yous were from parents or family that had children. Having adults tell me they wished their daughters/nieces/granddaughters were around to listen absolutely struck me. But not as much as when I had younger girls say things like:
“I hope to do that one day just like you,” or “that really inspired me.” Now, I was really dreaming.
Here I was, a couple months ago, looking up to my favorite poet Sarah Kay saying “I want to do that” and then I continued this cycle of also lighting a spark into these young girls. A spark that will help them go after something they want but also inspire someone else.
One thing that still resonates with me to this day is something that one of my speaker coaches, Kamille Soler, had told me when I first met her. Sitting in a coffee shop I had asked her “why me?” Because I was still positive at that this was all a joke and Ashton Kutcher was making a comeback and I was waiting for that ah-ha moment in which I realize I was being Punk’d. But she told me that during the reviewing of the video submissions for the application, that she just knew. All the people in that room reviewing the videos just knew “I was the one” when they heard me recite Sarah Kay’s poem, If I Should Have a Daughter, which she performed in her own Ted Talk. Quite ironic.
After my Ted Talk, I kept asking myself “Okay, so what’s next for me?” It was graduation. Literally, just four days after my talk, I walked across the stage and then again during my summer I asked “So, what’s next?” It was college. Needless to say I’ve asked myself that a lot lately. The day I turned 18, and the months leading up to that day, I kept wondering “Now what?” and I’m still figuring that out.
So how did the TEDx talk change my life? Well, one thing is for sure: I now have a story to tell.
Consuelo Martinez, is a recent graduate of Pasadena’s John Muir High School, and a freshman at Pasadena City College. She is a first generation Mexican-American and also a first-generation college student. Within the past year and a half, she found her voice in writing, poetry and public speaking and essentially found who she was: a poet, writer, artist and feminist. Connie plans on a writing career and hopes to be an English teacher, as well as a role model for young Latinas who come from a background similar to hers.
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