Blitz recently caught up with slam poet, teacher, and domestic violence advocate, Bilal Hafda, after his spoken word poetry performance at TEDxYouth@Sydney. With answers that inspired us, we can see why he has such a huge impact on motivating kids in Western Sydney to be positive influences in society.
What inspires you to write and perform?
I have two answers.
The first is life – my experiences and the things that have happened to me. I feel like writing is a form of catharsis that lets you work through things that have happened to you.
And lately, my second answer is my students. I work with a lot of young people in Western Sydney and I feel that they have such a barrier to expressing themselves because there is no platform for them to express what they are angry, frustrated or upset with. They don’t have the tools and the means to do that, so I want them to be able to write about it. When they do write about it, it’s beautiful and facilitating that makes me want to write for myself because I get to see the impact that is may have in someone’s life.
What is your favourite topic to write about?
My family was the first topic that I wrote about. I come from a very big Arab family who have shaped my character, and in order to understand myself, I have to understand them and their influence on me. So, I write a lot about them.
I write about literally anything that makes me angry, anything that frustrates me but I also write about things that I want to celebrate. I understand the benefits of writing in a negative light where you can work through emotions but I also feel like writing is a fantastic way to be able to pay respect to something that has positively influenced you.
How did you become aware of slam poetry and where did you find inspiration to become a slam poet?
A friend recommended the Bankstown Poetry slam to me. It was a surprise because I live tw0 minutes away from the arts center, where it is held, and never even knew it existed.
I first went there just as an audience member and I thought “this is absolutely the greatest thing I have ever experienced my entire life, next month, I’m going to perform”.
And I did. The next month I performed and after that, I performed every single month until they made me a committee member.
Now, I’m one of the organisers. It’s such a resourceful way to be able to share what’s going on in your life, your opinions and things you’re struggling with like-minded people who are accepting, have similar experiences and can exert some kind of empathy. It’s just such a nice diverse community to be in.
You’re involved in the RESPECT program. Can you tell us a little more about that?
The RESPECT program works with young boys in western Sydney and it’s about engendering positive relationships as they grow up and get into relationships themselves. We frame it as a way to respect women but it also encapsulates a broader sense of respecting everyone.
We go into schools and bring a domestic violence counselor along for two to three weeks to educate them about statistics concerning domestic violence, the reasons that it happens, the different types of domestic violence and how it all relates to control. We teach them that violence is not just physical abuse, but it encompasses emotional, spiritual or financial abuse and it’s all those of a man exonerating influence over a woman. We give the boys tools and have conversations with them to recognise and to think about what the opposite of that would be like. We then let them generate their ideas into some kind of rap, performance or song and they perform in front of an audience. We also professionally film it and put it up on the Bankstown Youth Development Service on YouTube.
What made you become so passionate about educating young boys about domestic violence?
I have a fantastically respectable father who was an amazing role model for me and we hear such horrible things about men committing acts of violence in a domestic setting on the news. And for me, that was never my experience growing up because my father wasn’t like that.
To think that the power plays in relationships where a man has power over a woman exists blows my mind. So, I wanted to do my part to support everyone in kind of building a better community and I feel like the only way to do that is to work with young people.
How would you like to shift the future of slam poetry?
Funding needs to be allocated to Western Sydney so that creative arts writing and performing programs can run. It needs to be done in a way that is accessible to all organisations that don’t have the means to be able to write grants. It’s hard for something like the Bankstown Poetry Slam or any startup trying to influence their community because funds are not accessible to them. There needs to be more support where those funding bodies go to communities and ask “What do you need? How can we support you? How can we help you?” instead of coming up with a program for the majority and think that it will solve problems. It’s not about solving a problem, it’s about giving people the tools and the means to help themselves.
Slam Dunk or Poetry Slam?
Rupia Kaur or Edgar Allen Poe?
Performance or Writing?