Spoken word poet Brian Millado performs his poem 'Crazy.'

Young poet gives back to Scarborough community

Spoken word poet Brian Millado will never pay to see a therapist.

“Poets often use the phrase, poetry is cheap therapy,’” Millado said. “You don’t have to pay someone … and there’s a potential for you to even get paid to spill your emotions out.”

At only 20, the Scarborough resident is starting to make his name as a poet in Toronto — and helping others do the same.

Millado has written poetry since elementary school and began performing his poems at age 16.  Now studying  English and history at Ryerson University, he writes about hardships, heartbreak and the false image of males. What he doesn’t write, and he states this with emphasis, are love poems,  unless you count his poem Fast Food, comparing his missed opportunity with a girl to burger).

Kim Angelo Santos, Millado’s best friend since Grade 11, remembers going with him to his first competition at the Drake Hotel in Toronto.

“Given that it was his first competition, he really took it in stride and gave off an air that said something like, ‘I’m grateful enough to be in this competition and pursue something I care about,’” Santos said. “As far as I saw, he was in the competition for the experience, not any sort of glory.”

Despite this, Millado placed fourth in the competition, and went on to win second place in the BAM! Youth Poetry Slam in 2010.

“It’s a magical feeling when you’re up there and everyone is grasping onto your words,” Millado said. “It’s like … I’m going to talk for three minutes and you’re going to listen, not because you have to, but because you want to.”

Brian Millado performs at the Toronto Poetry Slam at the Drake Hotel in Toronto on January 26 2013.
Brian Millado performs at the Toronto Poetry Slam at the Drake Hotel in Toronto on Jan. 26, 2013. (Alexandra Gater/Scarborough Observer)

A few months later, Millado co-created The Messengers, a group formed out of the top five poets from the Toronto Youth Poetry Slam Team. The members, who refer to themselves as a “collective” rather than a team, have finished first in many competitions all over Toronto and in parts of the United States.In 2011, The Messengers were the first team to represent Canada at the Brave New Voices spoken world festival (as seen on HBO) in California. Last summer, they placed first in the first ever youth team slam in Toronto.

“He puts his mind to something, he gets it done, simply said,” Santos said. Santos believes it is his drive that made Millado successful at a young age.

Five years after starting a lunchtime open mic poetry slam in his Scarborough high school, Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, Millado continues to give his peers a chance to express themselves through the art form across the Scarborough community.

“[Poetry] is a really accessible art,” Millado said. “All you need is a pencil. And even though there are judges, no one can judge you on what you write … because it’s your life.”

It is this reason Millado strives to engage youth in spoken word poetry.

Though Millado already runs the official Toronto Youth Slam, he is thinking about organizing a similar event in Scarborough.

“Scarborough might benefit from a Scarborough Youth Slam because of all the stuff that’s been happening over at Danzig this summer,” Millado said. “People just need an activity to push them away from that.”

Millado’s work as a senior leader at Uniffect, a program run by a charity called UNITY, strives to do just that.

If everyone was open to this idea of poetry, so much good would happen.”

—Brian Millado

“Uniffect is the Scarborough poetry slam group where teens from at-risk areas come for spoken word workshops bi-weekly,” Millado said. “It gets kids together and gets them in a creative environment to write poetry and perform it in front of friends.”

Bidhan Berma, 16, is a member of Uniffect. When Berma met Millado more than a year ago, he immediately looked up to him as a mentor.

“He’s really taken on not only a leadership role in my life, but more of a big brother,” Berma says.

Trying his best not to be biased, Berma gave his honest opinion on Millado and his work.

“He’s probably the best that I’ve ever seen live. I don’t think videos do him justice. He has so much presence. He definitely revolutionized, not only the way that I look at performing, but the way that a lot of people I know look at performing,” Berma said.

Millado hopes to one day empower youth as a teacher or by continuing his work with Uniffect.

“If everyone was open to this idea of poetry, so much good would happen … there would be so much less violence and knowledge of people,” Millado said.

— With files from Samantha Bridges, Alissa Heidman, Sun Lingmeng and SeYoung Park