If you’ve read my “About” page, then you know I’m the senior program director for the DC Creative Writing Workshop, a wonderful nonprofit based in DC’s Congress Heights community.
On Nov. 9, we will be participating in Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, a massive one-day regional online fundraiser to support local programs.
Our programs, started in 1995, continues to transform the lives of kids in the Congress Heights neighborhood, an often ignored part of the city. According to recent data from the Social Justice Center at Georgetown University, Ward 8, which encompasses Congress Heights, has educational hurdles.
For starters, among 16-19 year-olds, the high school dropout rate was 16 percent, “substantially higher than the district average of 10.1 percent.” The center also found that “one third (34 percent) of Ward 8’s population over 25 did not have a high school diploma, which was about average for the District.” Additionally, 7 percent of residents don’t even have a 9th grade education, and the Median Annual Income is $32,348, according to recent statistics.
A recent success story is Kiana Murphy, who despite those hurdles, overcame a lot to make it to her first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. Kiana’s story started when she joined the DC Creative Writing Workshop’s after-school writing club in 2005. “Writing Club is a true, life-changing experience. It helped me to express feelings so powerful that they scare even me sometimes,” according to Kiana’s essay on her experiences with the DC Creative Writing Workshop.
In writing club, Kiana and her peers read and gave critical responses to works of writers from various cultures and periods. She wrote her own poems while mastering literary devices and learning new vocabulary. “I am grateful that Writing Club has become such an important part of my life,” Kiana writes.
In 2007, Kiana was among the seven students hired through the Workshop’s youth employment program, helping students resist the lure of the streets.
As a young-writer-in-residence, she assisted the writers-in-residence by providing extra support for classroom management and helping with other administrative duties. “I have had such a great time in this program—new people, new places, and a whole new life of words, stanzas, and emotions,” writes Kiana, who went on to win the Parkmont Poetry Contest.
She was also part of the Workshop’s drama club, which creates original adaptations of classical plays by reading the texts and rewriting them line by line before the Workshop brings in a professional director to help them rehearse and perform their works on a stage for the community.
During her time in the writing club, Kiana excelled in her classes to become the valedictorian at Hart and again at her high school, Friendship Collegiate Academy.
Prior to graduating, Kiana was among five students from her high school to win a Posse Scholarship, which covers the cost of books, tuition, and her room and board at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The scholarship’s process—that entailed her being nominated by the school dean and sitting through three intense interviews with Posse reps—was a grueling one.
Kiana, who sought and received her Posse Scholarship letter of recommendation from the Workshop, was up against more than 1,000 other DC students for the scholarship. But, like the hurdles in her community, she overcame the process because she had to. “This is an opportunity to get out of DC and be in a different atmosphere,” she said, during a Dec. 23, 2010, interview on FOX 5 News.
Her goals? “I’m looking at going into Psychology and English, specifically Clinical Psychology,” she told Fox 5 News. “I want to help others because growing up in my neighborhood I was exposed to a lot of things.”
Earlier this year, a gunman shot and killed Raheem Jackson, a 16-year-old student at Woodson High, just outside of Kiana’s apartment in the 1300 block of Congress Street. There have been six shootings on Kiana’s block so far this year, three of them fatal. But, like everything else, she overcame those situations and is looking forward to a bright future.
If you ask, Kiana’ll tell you the DC Creative Writing Workshop kept her from being a negative statistic. “It’s made me stronger in another way, too. I am now able to speak out loud and say what I’m thinking without any fear,” writes the young woman, who’s secure in being her own person with her own opinions.
“I would also like to thank my writing instructors for helping me to find out who I am, figure out my goals, and plan my route to the future,” Kiana continued. “Now I know why I’m here: to strive for the best, succeed in life, and do remarkable things to change the world.”
With all that we’ve been able to provide for Kiana and others like her, we’ve been fortunate enough to stay afloat during the economic crisis. But we’re not clear of these tough times and the effects. With heavy emphasis on testing and little support for the arts, our funding is decreasing.
Additionally, the fewer arts opportunities in Congress Heights schools make it clear our services are more vital than ever. Our resources are stretched thin.
We’re counting on you to help us generate donations for the Give to the Max Day. Our goal is to raise as much money as possible and gain as many supporters as possible. If we make it to the Top 44 for most unique donors, we could win up to $10,000 in awards.
But we need your help with these three things:
- mark your calendar for Nov. 9th and add this link from our fundraising page.
- like us on facebook, link to us on your blog, and help generate buzz.
- forward this email to your friends, family, and anyone who might be interested in supporting literary arts access for underserved kids. Add a personal message about why our cause means something to you.
With your help, we can continue to provide opportunities for others like Kiana. Let’s make this our biggest individual donation day ever! Thank you for your support.