WHO ARE YOU? Poetry and Truth – by artist Regie Cabico


– By artist and workshop leader Regie Cabico:LAYC Logo

My second summer semester at Latin American Youth Center brought 16 young adult teens divided into two groups: The Road Runners and The Money Makers. The students were motivated to listen and to share their work in an intimate sunny conference room. My goal is to have students listen to each other, creating a supportive ensemble.




In the lessons I focused on speaking with imagery. In pairs, students asked WHO ARE YOU? I encouraged students to transform themselves into things in nature and to consider that when we “lie” in poetry- we use these “truths” as metaphors, similes and hyperboles. I was blessed to have the in-class support of Abi and Tina, who are naturally gifted writers themselves. Students got to work with their mentors in a collaborative way.

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On our second workshop I had Slam Poet Dwayne B. from Metro Teen AIDS perform work to prepare students for the culminating event. Little “T” said it was a highlight. Seeing a resident from Anacostia speak candidly and with humor, highlighting the neighborhood.



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Because the students were so in tune with each other I wanted to culminate with an exercise I rarely get to do because it requires, deep self examination of their life and possessions. The prompt is “If I Should Die Tonight,” a powerful way to celebrate life not in the depressed sense.




We listed what our valuable personal attributes, talents & tangible objects of value were along with instructions to the people we cherish, who we leave behind. Courtney has always been supportive of the workshop but she pulled herself into a candid powerful poem.

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At the culminating event all the students read their work and Courtney started to write a new poem off the cuff. A lot of these students never saw themselves as poets, but in the course of the workshop, they took the assignment and composed raps and stories. They went inward and gradually got up to stand on stage for the first time.




The poems are small life celebrations, accelerated at the Busboys & Poets poetry reading. Students were asked to remember significant people in their life. Abi got full praise as a teacher. Faith saying, This was the best educational experience of her life. Courtney, said I was mad cool and funny. Here is a small sampling of their work.


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This program was made possible by funding from Alternate ROOTS, in partnership with LAYC.








I runaway from your hands

Even when all you did was hold me close

You gave me the proposition that you’d wait

I’ve been told relationships weren’t for me so

picked up that idea and ran with it.

To me a relationship was a waiting fest.

No not that kind

 The one where you wait till the other

gives into infidelity

But you held me close

Even when I would hurt you with my words

thorns of a rose.

Now let’s sit down and talk.

Its been 2 years that we’ve been on this

run now let’s walk

now hold my hand.

Our love is never ending like a wrist band.

Stay close.

Even when you feel like all I bring is a fall.

At times we will be lost as if we’re on the road.

But I’ll never give in to the negativity we’re told


Doctor Stupid says,

I am just a girl.

I am the youth.

I am this generation.

I am that outcast

or red in a room

full of white

that you can spot

from a peek of a window.

I am what inspires

the next generation.

But some are cowards

are so chicken

to stand up

from above

You see, I am not your circle.

I am a square.

These adults cannot compare

to what we bring to the table

so go ahead

adults sling your shot.

Us youth

can make mountains move

We can flip 7 dollars to 70

and that’s a guarantee

We kick aside the hassle

that you adults bring.

We are walking dreams crossing

mountains and bridges with flames.

you can see as if we were dragons.

you see as you sit on toilets.

We are trying

and that’s more

than enough.

We light a fire

so strong smoke

becomes your

favorite incense.


I am a 17 year old girl with a drive so strong.

I have patience so strong with a mother who’s bipolar.

I don’t believe in the 4 years of college. At the age of 11

I was told I’d start having seizures at the age of 16.

Never once have I had a seizure. I hustle

because I know what it’s like to wonder

where you’ll sleep tonight. I have come across death.

I conquered my pill addiction. I believe in God.



If I should die tonight

tell Lizzy that I’m worth a graffiti.

If I should die tonight tell mama

I made a promise and I kept it.

If I should die tonight let my brother know

I’m sorry I used his paint ball gun and tell him

I always knew where it was.

If I should die tonight tell my whole family thank you for

adopting me into this wonderful life.

If I should die tonight please tell Bonnie,

I’ll always be her Clyde.

If I should die tonight tell my little cousins

that they don’t want to be like me, don’t want to see

all the things I’ve seen.


If I should die tonight

make sure everyone knows that

this time it wasn’t my choice.

that I was ready fro the next

day of life with a different pair

of eyes to be helpful & productive

not incognito and depressed.

If I should die tonight make

sure that my room isn’t dirty.

That’s always been a big thing.

Everything needs to be

in the proper place.

My mom’s number isn’t hard to find.

Maybe you can ask the group home

staff for it, or call the last foster

home I was in or even go to 7***

Cypress Court where her number is

written nicely on the whiteboard that

hangs on the refrigerator in the house

that once was my home.

Just 2 years ago finding her number

wouldn’t be a problem because it

would be under parent/guardian

but now… Maybe not so much.

Make sure she knows all those

missed phone calls

were great conversations

she missed out on.


It’s been a hard day

I’ve been waiting for night

Change out of my street clothes

Get in my bed and write

I write about my day

and how I feel

I write about anything

Just as long as its real

I lay in bed and try to relax

While all these thoughts

in my mind slowly collapse

In the morning I wake

long and deep breaths

before I take the steps

that are needed to take

To get on my feet

and strive to eat

to get my bread together

so I can find a permanent

place to sleep

My whole entire life

I’ve been the black sheep

At least now I’m that

sheep that is grinding

every day of the week



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Arts is Business: study shows arts industry contributes to economic wellbeing

By Yvonne Oh, ST Communications Volunteer

Having moved to this neighborhood not too long ago, I’ve made efforts to get to know my new place better by exploring and getting involved in activities. One great discovery I’ve made has been the numerous arts and cultural events available so nearby.

There are all kinds of performances, exhibitions, and events to attend. Just a couple months ago, when the weather started warming up, my family and I headed for outdoor activities. Performances outside were so enjoyable and entertaining. Later when the heat really turned up – well, hello summer – our plans changed to include visits to museums and galleries with good air-conditioning!

And we’re not the only family who are out enjoying great arts and culture activities. Many other families are either visiting local places or traveling further for their summer fun.


A recent report by Americans for the Arts shows the connection between nonprofit arts and cultural activities and a prosperous economy. This study, the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 is the most comprehensive economic impact study of the arts and culture industry. Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.3 billion in economic activity (2015).

Yes, the arts industry is a serious business. This video shares an overview of AEP5’s findings.

However, more importantly, is the local impact of this industry. The local arts industry cares for its neighbors.


A night out at a concert not just shows support for the arts, but also generates income for nearby establishments. And in turn, creates more business and jobs, and contributes to the overall economic health of the area! The AEP5 study has specific reports for local and regional areas. With data coming from diverse communities with varying populations, urban and rural areas, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia are represented. That summary can be read here.



So be entertained, inspired and moved by all the wonderful arts and cultural events that are out there this season. And know that your support of the arts is also support for the economic prosperity of your neighborhood. Hope you had a great summer!

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Story Tapestries at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

By Yvonne Oh, ST Communications volunteer

Good weather greeted our setting up of the Story Tapestries booth. It had rained a few days before, and while the ground was still soggy and with friendly earthworms popping up to say hello, the sun warmed up the day as we set up our booth.


On Saturday, May 20, 2017, the Gaithersburg Book Festival offered all kinds of activities and exhibits to bring literature to children, adults, families and friends. There were book readings and signings, writing workshops, and so much more. At the Children’s Village, where we had set up the Story Tapestries booth, visitors could hear story times in different languages, meet with authors of children’s and young adult fiction, view many performances and participate in a multitude of other activities.


Executive Director Arianna Ross brought boxes and boxes of pre-loved books for the donation table. Visitors to the booth were encouraged to take home a few books for donations of “a quarter up to a $1 million – I’m sorry we can’t make change!”



There were also two creativity tables for our younger visitors to show their artistic side. Our young visitors didn’t hold back on their imaginations as they put color, glitter and sequins on their pictures.

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The Story Tapestries booth had many visitors interested in learning more about the arts education work we do. And also old friends who showed support by dropping by.


Ariana happily shared how she used elements of music, story, and dance to entertain and educate.  Story Tapestries is passionate about the work we do in organizing artist-in-residence programs to teach creative writing and storytelling, often combining subjects like STEM with arts strategies, and equipping educators with innovative ideas to engage their students.


We had a great time at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, raised $225 with the books, and ran out of glitter glue! If you didn’t get the chance to visit us at the Festival, you can still learn more about Story Tapestries on our website and follow the work we do on our blog or Facebook page.



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Arts Partnerships Help Students Succeed

We asked our fabulous Communications Volunteer, Yvonne Oh, to tell us a little bit about what inspires her to support Story Tapestries and arts in education.  Yvonne is a regular and invaluable contributor to our blog and social media.  Here is her take on why Arts Partnerships Help Students Succeed.


My mother is the most dedicated teacher I know. She became a teacher after we kids were almost into our teens. No longer having to watch over us gave her time and opportunity to dive into a passion which we didn’t realize she had. And she was a very good teacher. In fact, she sometimes said it was a shame that she didn’t get to apply her knowledge of early child development with us – how brilliant we would’ve been! 



She’s retired now, and I thank her for the appreciation I have for teachers like her –  teachers who made sure lessons were creative and imaginative so that students were inspired to learn. Mind you, she’s happy to hear that I have been volunteering with Story Tapestries and doing my bit to help create positive learning environments. Retirement never stops a good teacher.



Story Tapestries has been a creative, dynamic partner to schools, community organizations and cultural institutions. Our mission is to help introduce creativity and imagination in everyday lessons. Story Tapestries has provided teacher training programs for professional development and arts integrations, teaching artist residencies and community workshops and performances.




I recently stumbled across an interesting article, The Art of Partnerships: Community Resources for Arts Education, that looks at ways to initiate and develop successful partnerships for arts integration in public academic curricula. A strong arts education has proven to benefit reading and language skills. Students also learn critical thinking and social interaction skills. Overall, there is a stronger motivation for learning.


Lend your support to Story Tapestries and encourage partnerships and cooperative programs between schools and arts organizations.

-Written by Yvonne Oh, ST Communications Volunteer

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Weaving Tapestries of Support for Youth

– by Katie Sill, Program Manager

We recently came across a Research Brief from the Center for Promise titled Defining Webs of Support: A New Framework to Advance Understanding of Relationships and Youth Development that discusses the frameworks of webs of support that are effective in positively impacting youth. This report, written by Shannon M. Varga and Jonathan F. Zaff, defines “Webs of Support” as the “intersection of a multilayered ecology filled with a network of relationships that provide social supports.”




The report helpfully breaks that down for us:

Relationships with people

Relationships with institutions

Relationships with their broader environment




This concept is what drove us to shape our Ideal Program Model, which is to bring together schools, parents, and other adult community leaders like librarians, museum docents, seniors and others to build networks that support youth in ongoing, positive ways.   When Story Tapestries connects with a community in need, we work together with that community to develop a strategy based on the following model:

IMG_0054Observing the community and working together to Assess what they Need

Come in to do a Series of Workshops culminating in some form of Community Event

Work with educators through Professional Development workshops

Work with parents and community members through Community Engagement Events

Reflect on the success of the program by Measuring the Impact

Our network of teaching artists, educators, and community leaders come together during this process to focus on literacy strategies, STEM, 21st Century Skills, and/or social development, depending on the unique needs of the school, utilizing art forms such as storytelling, hip hop/rap, poetry, theatre, dance, visual arts, and much more. We envision this collaboration forming a tapestry weaving together the needs of the community with the creativity and innovation that the arts provide.

One of the ways we’ve seen how the ARTS can be used to weave a tapestry of support for the children we work with is through the impact on LITERACY. The arts are languages that all people speak – they cut across racial, cultural, social, education, and economic barriers and enhance cultural appreciation and awareness.  This means the arts can be used to facilitate communication between students and teachers, between parents and schools, and between community members.


We’re excited to see the Center for Promise further developing and growing this idea of youth being supported by a network of relationships with the individuals, institutions, and environment that surrounds them.  The more we know about the complex environments that shape the lives of youth, the more tools we have in our toolbox to support them.  You can download the full report here.


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Exciting steps toward our Virtual Classroom!


What a week! Story Tapestries just submitted two major grant proposals that, if awarded, will help us take significant strides toward our Virtual Classroom – a brand new website that offers curated arts-integrated lessons and activities for educators, parents and concerned adults.

Story Tapestries is an advocate and a ymca-kids-and-mecollaborator for building a blueprint for success through our network of artists, educators, families, organizations, businesses, presenters and community leaders.  The core principle of what we engage in is Arts Integration which means that we use the arts as a tool to teach with, learn from and develop the community.  We recognize that the keystone in the bridge that we are often building is the arts, but we need to incorporate other pieces of the puzzle (curricula, conflict resolution, financial literacy, community service, etc) to truly create change.   We want our website to be a community resource center – a place for people and organizations to collaborate and connect with a variety of diverse resources.  

The grants we just applied for will help us start building the foundation of our Virtual Classroom, which is our new website.  To take this first step, Story Tapestries decided to partner with a local marketing firm in Maryland, Marstudio, to help us build and design our new framework.  The initial design and building phase for our new website is being tackled from January to June 2017. Then, in July/August 2017 we will be ready to take the next steps toward the Virtual Classroom itself.  Although now that feels like all the time in the world, we know it will be summer before we know it!

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Marstudio is an award-winning and experienced Strategic Branding & Creative Marketing Firm located in Rockville, MD, and they conduct business locally (Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia), nationwide and internationally.  After researching many options throughout the DC metro region, we realized their commitment to local non-profits while bringing a national and international perspective was exactly the fit we were looking for. We’re excited to be able to partner with a local company to undertake this project.

Although our Virtual Classroom can be used as a tool for teaching all curriculum areas, its benefits for STEAM are particularly exciting.   It will encourage familiarity with crucial modern technologies such as computers and tablets, providing opportunities for children in remote or underserved areas to build computer and internet skills while engaging with the arts.


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“Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” – by Mandela Harmon

Greetings Fellow Bibliophiles,

I recently found myself trying to remember what age I was when I started reading for content instead of just for pleasure. You remember it, right? The 5 W’s…and the H of course! Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.


Anyone who has ever had the luxury of spending time with a young child knows that the “Why” is the first question they seem to discover naturally and attach to everything in the universe!

It’s all too easy as a tired, busy, generally overwhelmed parent to answer, “Because! That’s why!”


My mom never had the luxury of a college education, but she was an avid reader and always “self-taught” herself anything she needed to know; and back in my day that meant with books.  She always expected my sisters and I to be willing to find the answers to our questions, and I can still hear her in my head to this day saying, “let’s look it up!” I still don’t know to this day, as she is no longer here to tell me, whether she knew the answer already, or if by looking it up she didn’t have to admit she didn’t know. Either answer works for me as I still always double check what I believe to be true before I share the info with my daughter.ymca-kids-and-me

As adults, we don’t need to have PhD in everything, we just need to take a moment to help our children learn to find the facts; whether we know the actual answer ourselves is irrelevant. It gives us a chance to grow each day along with them.

In the digital age it is easier to just have our children “go look it up”, but there is so much misinformation out there it’s hard to discern fact from fiction.


So, in this blog I’d like to share with you my favorite series of children’s reference books to help you answer the five W’s and the big H, even if you’ve forgotten the answers and don’t want to admit it.

My Favorite Reference Books for the Very Young (Ages 4-7):

I’ve been a fan of the “I Wonder Why?” series by Kingfisher Publishing from the first time my daughter grabbed one off the shelf in a bookstore!  These books cover just about any topic young minds can posit; everything from “I Wonder Why the Sea Is Salty: and Other Questions About the Oceans” to “I Wonder Why the Sun Rises: and Other Questions About Time and Seasons”. I’m not going to lie about this, friends; many of the questions I bumped into in this series I really didn’t know all the answers to, so I’m glad we “looked it up!”



My Favorite History Series for Grades 3 and Up:

I like the “Who was, What is, and Where is…” series by Grosset & Dunlap Publishers. The books explain not only the facts about the topic, but have fascinating single page inserts that address historical facts that help young readers better understand the challenges faced by the subject during the time they lived in. I like that they also include biographies of living figures so that children understand that their present is part of history; ex. “Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?”


I also still adore Mike Venezia’s biography series “Getting to Know…”, with colorful images and playful illustrations, he covers a diverse range of fascinating people; artists, scientists, composers, and more.  They are appealing and less intimidating to reluctant readers, because the layout of the pages is like a picture book, but still has the same value content as the “Who is…” series.

What also make them unique is that they cover a wide variety of individuals not available in the “Who was…” Series: ex. Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer), Diego Rivera (Mexican 20th Century artist), Daniel Hale Williams (1st African American heart surgeon), etc.


Historical Reference for Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-7):

I love DK reference books, but I have another favorite I swing towards for Ancient History. The “Navigators” series by Kingfisher Publishing is as jam-packed with facts as the “Eyewitness” series by D.K., but the pages are more vibrant and inviting. The books also have active internet links to safe accurate websites; so if the copyright date is old the site will still have new info.


Lastly friends, I ask you, is “The Guinness Book of World Records”, or the “National Geographic Kids Almanac” (insert year) worthy of being called a real reference book? Totally! Both books are great for grades 3-7 and easy to read aloud piecemeal to younger audiences. They are a healthy break from the heavy reading of school. A book of facts that can just be picked up, randomly opened, and enjoyed when you find yourself stranded on a long car ride, or anywhere else you just want to chill unplugged.


Check them out of your local library, or give them to that classmate you don’t know who invited your kid to their birthday party. Your gift may not seem the “Belle of the Ball”, but I promise once toys and crafts end up piled in a corner, that book will find its way into their hands and keep them captivated more often than you think.

Keep learning, keep reading, and most importantly keep making the time to “look it up!” together with the children you love.

Sincerely Yours, Mandela



About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off for 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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