How Poetry Changes the Conversation about Type 2 Diabetes

How Poetry Changes The Conversation About Type 2 Diabetes

Mon 04 Aug 2014

Story by José Vadi

Who loves orange soda? Not Obasi Davis, one of many young poets raising their voices to change the conversation around type 2 diabetes through The Bigger Picture, a campaign that uses spoken word films to critique the socioeconomic contributors of this preventable, but growing, disease.

The Bigger Picture is a collaboration between Youth Speaks, a San Francisco based arts nonprofit that empowers Bay Area teens through poetry, and the University of San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations in 2010 to launch a project that encourages young people to “raise their voice and change the conversation around type 2 diabetes.

In the news, most headlines about diet-related health conditions frequently focus on individual solutions like exercising and “eating right.” In doing so, the media ignore the systemic conditions that make these kinds of solutions impossible for many, including unsafe parks that prohibit exercise, lack of access to healthy foods, and an oversaturation of junk food marketing. The American food and beverage industry spends nearly $12 billion annually to market unhealthy, highly-processed foods to predominantly low-income, minority communities.

Statistics like these have a strong impact on the young poets involved in The Bigger Picture, who participate in ten-week workshops with UCSF doctors and Youth Speaks poets to learn the ins-and-outs of type 2 diabetes. Participants then author poems that channel their own experiences and relate them to the environmental and socioeconomic factors that contribute to the prevalence of the disease. The intersection of 14th and Adeline in Oakland highlighted in Obasi’s poem can exist anywhere teens are found in the crosshairs of unhealthy food advertisements. By making the personal political thru informed and researched poetry, there’s no doubt why Obasi was crowned the Youth Poet Laureate of the city of Oakland in 2013.

Today, over 75% of children of color drink a sugary beverage every day. For this reason, the Bigger Picture has also made films about soda’s impact on the Latino community, who are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes. The project recently launched a Spanish-language website as well as two bilingual films featuring poets Monica Mendoza and Yosimar Reyes.

Check out a few of The Bigger Picture’s films regarding sugar-sweetened beverages below:
Obasi Davis “Targets”

Monica Mendoza “A Taste of Home”

Yosimar Reyes “Lost in Translation”

About the author: José Vadi is a writer and producer living in Oakland, California. A two-time poetry slam champion, José received the San Francisco Foundation’s Shenson Performing Arts Award for his debut play, A Eulogy for Three, produced under the direction of Marc Bamuthi-Joseph. José earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction at Mills College before creating the The Off/Page Project, a new collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting, that garnered national attention upon its launch in August 2013. He also serves as a contributor and social media manager for The Bigger Picture. @vadiparty


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