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Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry

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My work as a poet is motivated and sparked by many things: creating performance and writing opportunities for others (especially students), inspiring people to have honest conversations, expanding the definition and reach of poetry, mentoring young poets, and showing others that being an independent artist is a viable option.

As poet laureate of Charleston, I’ve collaborated with many institutions to create writing opportunities. When I first started out as an artist, I was frustrated by the lack of poetic experiences available to me. It is a mission of mine to use my privilege to create opportunities for others. So far, I’ve worked with hospitals, museums, colleges, and schools - infusing poetry in all of those spaces. It’s time to normalize poetry in a city that is so full of history. So full of beauty. So full of pain.

Last year, I collaborated with the Gaillard Center to produce Poetic Hip-Hop: an experience that combined performance with education. I stood on a world-class stage and talked about A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Muhammed Ali. It was a highlight of my artistic career here in Charleston.

I’m a huge Star Wars fan. One of the moments that has stuck with me for more than 20 years is Yoda telling Luke, “pass on what you have learned.” That’s what I aim to do with my poetry workshops. I visit students of all ages, showing them the power of their voices on paper. This is important because art is bigger than us. And art is activism. Students and younger poets have the power to change society into a more honest reality than the one we live in now ...

Especially Black students, who are caught in a school system that was not built to tell their story. America’s history is the story of racism masked with promise. When a Black student realizes that there is no limit to their creativity, then they are more empowered. And we are a better society because of it.

That’s why, in my poetry workshops, I encourage students to be themselves. To speak, with no filter. In a way, it is selfish: I know that I will be inspired by what they have to say. And I know that I will be inspired to remember a part of me that was not encouraged in adulthood.

One example of the power of students’ work happened earlier this year when I worked with MUSC on the Septima P. Clark poetry contest. We reached out to elementary and high school-aged poets and asked them to write about mental health. Here are some examples of their work, along with photos from my workshops.

Excerpts from student poems

“On anxiety, thank you for making me investigate corners in the night.

Making sure there are no awful beasts lurking there.”

- John W., Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School


“I pretend that I’m okay, but I’m not 

I feel trapped, chained to all of my insecurities 

I touch the darkness I feel inside me …”

-     Iris P., Jerry Zucker Middle School


“you are itching to climb out of yourself  

and all of your cells agree.

the temperature  

at which you transcend is uncertain,

but curling up

into a ball like that conserves a lot of heat.”

-     Madeline F., Goose Creek High School

Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry
Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry
Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry
Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry
Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry
Engaging With Charleston's Youth Through Poetry