Although the GED students at the Latin American Youth Center in Silver Spring, MD had watched a video of me performing poetry before I walked in, I don’t think they imagined that by the end of the week they would be the ones performing for me! Indeed, my proclamation that we would be sharing our stories and performing for one another was met with reluctance by the two different corps I worked with, but they steadily worked on meeting my expectations.
We began the first day by working on listing poems whereby the students free-wrote on the prompts “Where I’m From” and “I am.” These prompts allowed them to incorporate imagery, sensory details, and figurative language as they described their neighborhoods and the person they imagine themselves to be. Some students in the group had once held dreams of being rappers, while others had never found themselves drawn to the written word. But through keeping the goal in mind: connecting the poetry and critical reading skills of my workshop to the real-life and job-readiness strategies they were learning in their GED program, the students pushed on in finding and empowering their unique voices. By the end of the week, every single student wrote…and several even wrote and revised when we were out of session!
As the Friday performance loomed near the students practiced the deep breathing techniques taught in class and each looked nervously around the large classroom where both corps were now seated. Several LAYC staff persons dropped by to encourage and cheer for them. Despite their nerves, it was a powerful event. The students connected to one another’s stories, forced themselves to be brave on stage, and ultimately felt pride in the fact that they could stand up in front of their peers and share a piece of themselves.
Here is an excerpt from one of the student’s writings, titled Life as I saw it.
I come from a place where success was never seen,
There are human beings that shiver in the cold who look like phenes,
There are violence that was committed and seen with the naked eye,
There are young ones who choose their friends that will destroy their lives,
There are brothers and sisters who fail to see the bright side to survive.
As for I who look blind but in my mind I could find a way to rewind,
Despite the fact that I did time and owned things that wasn’t mine,
And as for fun I’ve done dangerous chores which made an old lady cry,
So as for now, I just think of life to reach for the sky,
As for when I speak, I feel like a lion,
I am brave and have courage which shows I am not lying,
My future broke down and look as if it was dying,
And like a young bird I flapped my wings and started trying.