A Teenage Poet, Onstage at Town Hall

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll preview a poetry slam for middle and high school students that’s planned for today. We’ll also look at swimmers who survive winter by swimming — and not in a heated pool.

Credit…Ashley Pena for The New York Times

Cameron Dada, a high school senior, will walk onto a stage in the theater district in Manhattan today and read a poem that she wrote. This is how it begins:

Hi I’m Cameron Dada

Hi I’m Cameron Dada and I am 17 years old

She will be onstage for a poetry slam at the Town Hall, the storied auditorium where the bass-baritone Paul Robeson made his first concert appearance and where the soprano Marian Anderson made her New York debut. She is one of five winners in a poetry competition that the Town Hall Education Department organized for Black History Month.

“I am a little nervous,” Dada said, “but once I start, I’ll be OK.”

Hi I’m black.

No matter what I say when they see me They see black And when they see black

They see a box.

This is the first time that Town Hall, which has long held gatherings for students during Black History Month, has focused on poetry — in past years it highlighted folk music artists, modern dance performers and Black composers, among others. The slam today, with the poet aja monet as the host, will be the first in which the student winners from middle and high schools across the city have been called to the stage to deliver their works.

Videos of their performances will appear on the Button Poetry YouTube channel, run by a company that promotes performance poetry and has more than 1.38 million subscribers. Jocelyn Bonadio-de Freitas, the director of education at Town Hall, said the poems were judged by poets, teaching artists and educators, along with staff members from the Town Hall Education Department.

Dada will not have to go far to deliver her poem. She attends the Repertory Company High School for Theater Arts, which operates from the Town Hall building on West 43rd Street and admits students by audition. She said she was waiting to hear from the colleges she applied to. “I’m going for acting,” she said, and is looking to minor in “creative writing or something like that.”

Bomadio-de Freitas said that Town Hall had turned to Mahogany L. Browne, the executive director of JustMedia, a media literacy initiative for community justice, and arranged poetry workshops in seven high schools around the city. The students in the audience at today’s slam will be given a copy of Browne’s new book “Chrome Valley: Poems,” along with monet’s book “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.”

A box is something you can define

A box has four sides

A box is enclosed and limited

Existing black cannot be described as a box

There are no limits to what we can do

There are no limits to who we are.

Bonadio-de Freitas said that collaborating with schools on workshops had given her a glimpse of how the school system had fared in the pandemic. Her conclusion? “Each school at this moment in time in the pandemic is in its own state,” she said.

“Some are organized, where they’ve come back stronger than ever,” she said, “and there are other schools that are more in disarray, where because of budget cuts, because of dramatic staffing changes, people who left the profession or retired from teaching but might have come back to play a supportive role in arts programs decided not to come back after the pandemic. They’d had it.”

That made poetry all the more important for students struggling with losses from the pandemic, she said.

Poetry isn’t like learning a violin or staging a musical, “where you need tons of technical support or costumes or makeup,” Bonadio-de Freitas said. “Poetry is accessible. It’s your phone or a piece of paper and a pen. The ask is the students’ attention and reflection. They have to slow down long enough to think about their experience and get that down on paper.”


Enjoy a sunny day near the low 50s. The evening is partly cloudy, with temps dropping to around the mid-30s.


In effect until Monday (Lincoln’s Birthday).

The latest New York news

Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times
  • Police review board report: The New York Police Department must overhaul its response to large demonstrations and better train officers to control crowds while preserving the right to protest, according to a report released by an oversight body that examines police misconduct.

  • Tiered prices for movie tickets: By the end of 2023, AMC theaters will offer tickets at three different price levels, with middle seats costing the most. You’ll pay less if you like the front row.

  • Star maestro comes to New York: Gustavo Dudamel, the charismatic conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will become the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2026, that orchestra announced on Tuesday.

  • A Broadway show full of secrets: Adapted from Larry Sultan’s photo memoir, Sharr White’s play “Pictures From Home” explores the lies people — and their photographs — tell.

Everybody into the ocean

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The pounding surf. The cresting waves. The bracing salty spray in your face.

There’s nothing like a swim in the Atlantic Ocean in frigid February.

So say those who plunge in regularly. A dozen stalwarts from the New York Dippers Club hit the water on Sunday, taking a selfie before peeling off jackets and dashing toward the water. They left our writer Alyson Krueger, in long underwear and a parka, shivering on Rockaway Beach. The water temperature was 44 degrees.

That was the day after the air temperature sank to 4 degrees — when, for once, the group canceled the daily swim.

Katherine Ragazzino, a retired Marine, made the no-go call on Saturday. “We don’t need to be heroes here,” said Ragazzino, who has taken it upon herself to see that everyone in the Dippers Club is taking precautions like checking in with his or her doctor before suiting up the first time. The group started laying out towels and coats where they can be grabbed and put on quickly after a chilly outing on Christmas Eve left some in the group with frostbite, according to Suzie Peters, a neuroscientist who has gone in the ocean every day since Nov. 30.

Another Dipper, Marianne Bertini, a retired schoolteacher who owns a gluten-free bakery in the Rockaways, described having to help a man who was new to the group and feeling particularly “macho.” “He dove headfirst into the water,” she said. “You can’t do that, especially if you are new, and he kept shivering. We all kind of huddled around him until he got warm again.”

Cold plunges have been having a moment, thanks to wellness practitioners like Wim Hof and celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Lizzo, who have posted about the practice on social media. The science is mixed, but anecdotally, practitioners believe it improves mental clarity and relieves stress and depression. Others say it helps pain management and weight loss. The science is also mixed on that.

Some cold plungers swim close to home — very close. Paul Dobrynin, who runs a floor company, set up a pool on the roof of his building on Manhattan’s West Side. “Initially I had this cheap, small, plastic blowup pool that I put ice in,” he said.

In November, he got a 100-gallon tank. But he still has a concern the Rockaways crowd does not: making sure there’s water to plunge into.

“I run a hose through my kitchen, my bedroom, by my bed, out the window, to the roof, to the cold plunge,” he said.


Honey don’t

Dear Diary:

Leaving my Upper East Side school on a pleasant fall day, I saw a woman peering intently at something in a nearby flower bed.

“There’s a perfectly good honeydew melon in there,” she said.

She wanted to retrieve it but was having trouble bending over to grab it.

I walked over, examined the object closely and realized that it wasn’t a melon but a foam-rubber ball. I picked it up and explained to the woman that it was a ball, not a honeydew.

Rather than thanking me, she snatched the ball from me and said she needed to give it to her son’s school. Clutching her newfound treasure, she headed off toward Park Avenue.

— Ellen Stavitsky

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.


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