Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman are the two “groundbreaking soul sisters” who make up Climbing PoeTree, a slam poetry duo that fights for social and environmental justice.

The two women use their talents as poets, public speakers, and hip hop dancers to tackle serious issues all around the world. The poems have a wide range of themes, from Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, to human rights issues at the Rikers Island Prison and the fight for LGBT equality.

One of Climbing PoeTree’s biggest endeavors is S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D., a project to compile personal stories on small pieces of cloth into a collective tapestry. The idea originally started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, when Garcia and Penniman felt that there was a “collective need for us as a people to testify to our lived experiences and to confront the misrepresentations in mainstream media.”

At every one of their events, they distribute cloth squares and sharpies, encouraging the audience members to share something deeply intimate—a fear, a secret, a dream. Throughout this process, the women have received stories about people “fleeing war in their own countries, spending time in prison, being raped by their fathers, learning to kill their own people, foster care, police brutality, and suicide” and more. But, in addition to the dark, haunting accounts they read, there are those of hope, of “being the first in their family to graduate,” “falling in love with themselves for the first time,” “giving birth, starting schools, and changing laws.”

Climbing PoeTree’s success has led to invitations to lead workshops and perform all around the world, from New Story Summit in Scotland to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Their work is being currently featured in college and high school curricula in various different countries.

Adam Jolly, a CC first-year, was among the students attending Garcia and Penniman’s performance in Celeste Theater on Feb. 19.

Jolly knew nothing about the group prior to the event, but he and his friends decided to go “on a whim after seeing the advertising banner put up in Worner.” He added that he is “always a big fan of spoken word,” so the presentation seemed intriguing. They “went in blind, but came out pleasantly surprised,” Jolly recounted.

At the event itself, Garcia and Penniman recited “around 10 poems, almost entirely from memory.” “There was a really good flow to the performance,” Jolly emphasized, “and they did a really good job of getting the audience involved.” Apparently one of the signature aspects of the performances is the interaction with the audience. They really encouraged people to not only “feel the vibes,” but to snap and give verbal feedback during the performance when an audience member connected with a particular piece.

Overall, attendees said that the whole evening was relaxed, and both performers seemed “extremely into it.”

The empowerment of women, Jolly recounts, was a recurring theme in the poems, but “they definitely weren’t speaking down to men.” The environment and poverty are also featured heavily in their work. “They really talked about just doing the right thing,” whatever the theme of the particular piece was. “For a lot of the time, the poems were just getting really depressing, but that’s often how environmental and social justice pieces can go, since that’s just the state of the world right now. But by the end of it, I would say that they really turned it around and inspired a lot of people. Overall, it was just a nice little reminder of what it means to be human.”

Jolly said that in the end, the whole night was a nice reminder of what’s important. “On the block plan,” he said, “people can get really caught up in whatever class they’re in and really can forget about everything else. This event did a really good job of grounding everyone in the room. It was a good place for reflection.”

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