Zy’Tavien Abrams

Denmark Technical College

"I was homeschooled, and I knew I wanted to start my higher education journey at a two-year college. I wanted to start small, have success with that, and figure out where to go from there."

Spoken word poetry is not for the faint of heart. It is an art form that requires drama in its performance, rhythm in its delivery, and conviction in its message. And for Denmark Tech student Zy’Tavien Abrams, it also requires a bit of “peacocking” – especially if a scholarship is at stake.

You didn’t go to Denmark Tech with the intent of becoming a great orator. You were thinking something more along the lines of biology. Tell us about your interest in science.

It began when I was very young, watching PBS Kids in the mornings. My favorite show was Wild Kratts. It’s a mix of live-action and animation where these two brothers, Chris and Martin Kratt, go on adventures to explore animals in their natural habitats. The show was funny and educational at the same time, and I was always curious about the animals they encountered.

I also loved anything on Nat Geo and Animal Planet – the vet shows, River Monsters. Steve Irwin was my hero when I was a child, and I had a particular interest in entomology.

I was homeschooled, and I knew I wanted to start my higher education journey at a two-year college. I wanted to start small, have success with that, and figure out where to go from there. Getting an Associate of Science in Biology seemed like a logical next step.

Since enrolling, you’ve also discovered a new passion: public speaking. What’s it like to be a member of Denmark Tech’s Oratorical Society?

It’s the thing I enjoy most about Denmark Technical College. My instructor, Ms. McAlister, is like a mom. She’s a great motivator and is always finding a way to help us improve. And she doesn’t overwhelm us; she teaches us in baby steps.

For instance, she started by teaching us about confidence. When I first joined Oratorical Society, she told everybody to stand up, she played an encouraging song, and she had us walk out of the classroom and into the hallway “the Peacock way.” It's this idea of standing with confidence, shoulders back, head held high. Just as a peacock spreads its feathers, so should we show people who we truly are and be proud of who we are. Ms. McAlister gave us that sense of confidence from the very beginning.

We also watch videos and take notes on how other people speak. We learn good speaking techniques from them, but we also learn how to make things our own. Sometimes I’ll watch a video and think, Huh! They’re doing it one way, but I wonder what it would be like if I try a different way? I’ve realized that I can use that to improve myself not only in my career but in everyday life as well.

And trying things a different way recently paid off when you placed first in the Spoken Word category at the South Carolina Speech and Theatre Association’s State College Festival Competition held at Newberry College. (Whew—that’s a mouthful!) Tell us about your award-winning poem.

I wanted to share my personal experience because I think there’s great power in that, so I started with the title, “Trust in God.” It was inspired by all the people in the Bible who weren’t afraid to speak out, regardless of their circumstances. It was also inspired by my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.

My dad was my biggest motivator. He was the voice of our house. His laugh was contagious, and he was always singing his own little songs. Sometimes they didn’t make sense, but he sang them anyway! Sadly, he passed away a little over two years ago. Maybe even that was a sort of blessing in disguise because I used to lean on him a lot, but I never really leaned on my Heavenly Father. During and after my dad’s death, I learned how to do that.

So I used “Trust in God” as the title, and then I began doing something I call “blueprints.” I get a piece of paper and draw stick people to illustrate how I want to perform my poem. I was trying different techniques to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and then I had a thought. I asked my teacher, “Do you have any handcuffs?”

I wanted to use handcuffs to show how we go through all kinds of trials and tribulations – depression, anger, loss – and those are like chains that you can’t break by yourself.

I also incorporated voice acting for both the Devil and God so that listeners could see the kind of opposite messages they were telling me – like a complicated battle about who I was going to trust.

At the end of the poem, I chose God’s side. Satan threatened me, but I said with confidence, “I’ll take the chance. I choose to trust in God.” And that’s when I broke the handcuffs.

That’s powerful stuff – we would love to have seen the actual performance! And as a result, you were awarded a scholarship to Newberry College, correct?

Yes, along with an invitation to join their speech and debate program. So that’s my next step. I would love to find a way to combine my interest in science and public speaking. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like yet, but I’m excited for the possibility.