Youth Speaks has announced a new youth hip hop and spoken word contest and radio special called “Raise Up.”

This nationwide contest is designed to use the power of spoken word and hip hop, as well as the reach of public media to foster a discussion among a diverse group of young people about their education and future aspirations. The contest will run from April 7 through June 30, 2014. The winners – chosen by a panel of judges, including Def Jam Co-Founder Russell Simmons and actress and activist Rosario Dawson, will perform at The Kennedy Center. The Raise Up project is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a public media effort to help communities address the high school dropout crisis supported by Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s (CPB).

“Public media is the voice of the community, bringing in diverse perspectives and addressing critical issues through reporting and storytelling, resources for the classroom, and as a local destination for community forums and dialogue,” said Patricia Harrison, President and CEO, CPB. “The contributions of our youth are essential to the enduring prosperity of our nation. Every child wants to succeed and every child has talent to contribute. Public media will not only capture their stories but help them to participate in a bright future for themselves and our country.”

“We want to hear from young people around the U.S. about the challenges they go through both individually and systemically, and we want to celebrate the successes of young people who have navigated the system and made it to graduation,” said Youth Speaks Founder and Executive Director James Kass. “Our goal is to encourage young people to raise their hands, raise their voices, raise up as an individual, raise up their schools, and ultimately use the power of their voice to help raise the rate of graduation.”

Project partners include Def Jam Records Co-Founder Russell Simmons, the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), Urban Word NYC, Young Chicago Authors, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Other key advisors on the project include Chair of the Emerson Education Fund at the Emerson Collective in Palo Alto, CA, Russlynn Ali, and Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Director of the Educational Equity Initiative at the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational and Environmental Design (ISEEED) and an associate professor at San Francisco State University). Additional partners will be announced.

Participation is limited to individuals ages 15 – 22. Submissions will be accepted from April 1 through June 30, 2014. All submissions will be posted on the “Raise Up” website,, and voted on in a three-tier judging process: the general public, a diverse group of panelists selected by Youth Speaks, and finally an esteemed panel of celebrities and youth leaders, including Russell Simmons and Rosario Dawson. Five winners will be selected. Each winner will receive $5,000 educational scholarships from the project partners and will travel to Washington, D.C. to perform at the Kennedy Center in the fall. Youth Speaks will work with the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) to produce a corresponding two-part series that will be distributed to public radio stations nationwide.

Youth Speaks will also work with public media stations in every community across the country and the organization’s extensive Brave New Voices youth network to promote the project to potential contestants. “We want to have as many young people as possible be part of the national discussion about the high school dropout crisis,” said Kass. “We believe their voices have the power to change the conversation.”

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