Tag Archive: advocacy


(PHOTO: Samantha Paul) For her ninth birthday, Rachel Beckwith asked her family for donations to help bring clean water to people in poor countries. She died in a car crash before she could see her $300 goal exceeded a thousand times over.

Ryleigh Kastra and Joshua Williams fed needy people in their communities. Rachel Beckwith brought clean water to African villagers. These young people, all of whom Youth Service America (YSA) recognized as Everyday Young Heroes, weren’t in their teens when they decided to make a difference…they were children.

Yesterday was Universal Children’s Day, which the United Nations and its member countries observed for two reasons: 1) promote mutual exchange and understanding among children and 2) to promote the welfare of the world’s children.

Of the former, these young people weren’t waiting on anyone to take action. They did it, themselves – like Rachel Beckwith of Seattle, Washington. On her ninth birthday, Beckwith asked her family for donations to Charity: water. She set up a website with the nonprofit, hoping to meet her $300 goal (she only reached $220 by her birthday).

Ryleigh Kastra from Charlottesville, Virginia, was just as ready to affect change when she joined a national food drive initiative started by another Everyday Young Hero. Kastra was 8 years old when she created flyers, asking for canned goods donations. She distributed nearly 400 of her flyers. She collected 700 pounds of food to deliver on her first trip to Neighbors-4-Neighbors.

Joshua Williams, of Miami, Florida, and his family were on their way to feed the homeless when officials told them it was against public health laws to distribute food without a permit.

(PHOTO: Lance Cheung) The White House recognized 11-year-old Joshua Williams, of Miami, last year as a “Champion of Change” for strengthening food security in the United States and around the world.

He was initially inspired by what he saw on TV. “I was watching Feed The Children, and I felt sad for the children,” Williams said in the Sodexo Foundation’s video, which included interviews with Williams’s aunt KerryAnne McLean and his friend Alexander Bailey. Of Feed the Children, Williams added, “I wanted to do [something similar] in Florida.”

That’s when his mom, aunt and a consultant helped him start his own foundation, Joshua’s Heart, when he was 5 years old. “It was amazing because his friends and other family members — everyone — was excited to help…and put a smile on someone else’s face,” McLean said.

The Foundation has since raised over 400,000 pounds of food to needy families in South Florida, while teaching some recipients how to prepare healthier meals. “We have volunteers and elves,” Williams said. “Volunteers are adults, and the elves are children. They’re my friends, or friends of my friends.”

An elf admired Williams’s selflessness. “I think Joshua has a very big heart,” Bailey said. “I would say that he’s a very thankful person and he’s very helpful.”

Universal Children’s Day is an opportunity to be as helpful in promoting the welfare of the world’s children. Two years ago, Generations United teamed up with the MetLife Foundation to help the Ryleighs, the Joshuas and the Rachels out there, looking to put their entrepreneurial spirits to work.

(PHOTO: Stock)

Through our youth-led jump-start grants, young people developed volunteer projects working with, or on behalf of, older adults. I remember what a teenager, who took part in our project, once reported. “One thing I learned through this project is to respect your community and your history,” he said. “For all of the retired teachers we worked with, most had lived here for a while, and even though they are done working and could leave if they wanted to, they did not. I learned through their stories that your community has a way of shaping you and your history, and that your community never leaves you.”

Generations United promoted the welfare of the world’s children by stating our support for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines two weeks ago – leaving thousands, who lost everything, struggling to survive without food or medical care. We used our weekly e-newsletter, Generations This Week, to direct support to HelpAge USA and Save the Children.

At our Signature Report event next month, we’ll tackle the zero-sum framework (funding programs like Social Security and Medicare for Americans over 65 vs. addressing college debt and youth unemployment), which sets up a false conflict between our older and younger generations.

As we celebrate Universal Children’s Day, let’s nurture our children’s potential and show them there’s no age limit on affecting change.

Arts Advocates, Unite!

(PHOTO: Alan King) The D.C. Creative Writing Workshop’s writing club members who placed at the 2013 Parkmont Poetry Competition.

In a previous post, I talked about why poetry matters. Now, with the shift towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, advancing the arts is more important than ever.

I’m still hellbent on convincing my opponents that arts education is as important as mathematical skills. In fact, while “you can replace some math skills with a calculator,” according to Hal Sparks, “there’s no calculator for human interaction.”

That human connection — which I enjoy as a creative writing instructor and nationally published poet — is, as Hendrik Willem van Loon once put it, a true barometer of what’s going on in our world.

(PHOTO: Alan King) Mark Williams, chair of the Literary Media and Communications department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, cracks up after hearing Khat’s joke: “Why do basketball players wear bibs?” Answer: “Because they dribble a lot.”

I’m glad that two columnists, The Desert Sun’s Floyd Rhoades and Florida Today’s Suzy Fleming Leonard, are using that barometer to measure how arts impact today’s education. The emphasis placed on STEM — minus the “A” — worries Rhoades.

”Certainly a well-rounded education is critical, but when we put all the emphasis on right-brained education, what happens to the left-brained students?” Rhoades wondered. “What about an A for the Arts? We should be talking about STEAM” — (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) — “not just STEM….It’s also about quality of life.”

As a poetry teacher, I can attest to that. The arts fulfill my life and those of my students. During my craft lessons I teach throughout the D.C./Baltimore region, I make my classes aware of sensory details (what brings the reader into the speaker’s world) and psychological details (what brings the reader inside the speaker’s mind or what shows the speaker’s reactions to the sensory details).

What I enjoy most about teaching is how my students light up when they realize that every time they write poems, they’re casting spells. The goal is to keep the reader spellbound until the end. They also learn to enhance an already rich experience with other literary devices such as rhythm and alliteration, both of which crank up a line’s musicality so it hits the reader like a bass thump to the chest.

For the students I taught at both Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, those craft elements paid off when their work won recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Parkmont Poetry Festival in addition to D.C.’s citywide competitions.

(PHOTO: Alan King) Kayla swagging at the after school writing club.

The arts also provides abundant possibilities, according to columnist Suzy Fleming Leonard, who interviewed about 900 folks on Facebook. The outcome affirmed her hypothesis that arts appreciation does more than “produce…just talented artists.”

Leonard’s notion alludes to the creative economy, what Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, describes as “creativity…turned into big commercial innovations lead[ing] to new businesses, new jobs, higher wages and economic growth.”

In a September column for The Atlantic, Florida noted a recent study by two analysts at the London School of Economics that looked at the United Kingdom’s “creative industries” — among which are advertising, architecture, publishing and design.

“But, as the researchers pointed out, creativity extends beyond these specific firms and industries,” wrote Florida. “Roughly 2 million people are employed in creative occupations across the U.K. Economy, more than 40 percent of which are in other industries.”

Back in the U.S., Mijee Bain and Debbie Vordemark Wells are part of that economy. They told Florida Today’s Suzy Fleming Leonard how their childhood appreciation of the arts equipped them for unlikely careers.

“Because of my education in the arts — both at school and in Brevard County community theaters — I learned a good amount of the skills I needed to become an international business consultant,” Bain said. “I would never have been able to travel and consult with major companies on six continents without my background in the arts.”

It also informs Debbie Vordemark Wells’s skills as an engineer. “I think what makes the arts so attractive to complete education is the use of the other senses,” Wells said. “I have been lucky to have started serious musical training at 9 and played alone or in groups for many years. . . . As a result, I’m a very creative engineer. Sound, smell, sight and feel play a huge role in evaluating technology.”

As for me, I’m in the business of advancing art. I did it for four years as senior program director for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. My communications strategies included developing outreach materials — often quoting Americans for the Arts in my grant applications to corporate and private funders, informing them that “The arts…are essential to a thriving community, creating a sense of place and fueling social and economic growth.”

Duke Ellington’s Literary Media students rehearsing their talk for TEDxDESA, the first-ever high school TED talk.

I also took my crusade to the airwaves, promoting arts education through an on-air interview and radio spots, all of which resulted from my partnership with National Public Radio. Additionally, I served as an advisory panelist for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, improving the commission’s application/review process.

And despite these accomplishments, I know my work — like other arts advancers — is a drip, compared to the downpour of programs and services that arts advocacy coalitions offer their member organizations and artists.

That’s why — more than ever — we need to make a stronger case for arts education, which requires collaborating with other arts defenders, echoing a Michael Jordan quote: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

It’s time for us to support groups championing the arts, doing our part to help score opportunities for more Americans to take part in and appreciate all forms of the arts.

Fundraiser for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop

(PHOTO: DC Creative Writing Workshop)

Those who can’t make this event, or who live out of the area, can support our work by visiting our donations page here.

Join us Sept. 20 at the 5th and K streets Busboys and Poets for a fundraiser benefit to support the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop.

For 12 years, the Workshop’s used arts education to transform the lives of kids living in D.C.’s Congress Heights neighborhood, an often forgotten part of the city.

With a fundraising goal of $50,000, we need everyone’s help. Please spread the word!

Come out and support the work of the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop that’s resulted in thousands of students attending readings, plays and other literary events, winning dozens of writing awards, and enjoying a wealth of new experiences not otherwise available to young people in Ward 8.

Many of the Workshop’s graduates have gone on to study at New York University, George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to name a few. One former student went to Harvard. Another, who graduated from George Mason University and continued his studies at Loyola University Law School, earned a paid summer internship at a Minneapolis law firm. Several former writing club members have graduate degrees or are working on them.

(Visit our website for additional information. Read why 2012 was the best year ever for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. You can also keep up with what’s going on with the Workshop by visiting our Facebook page or reading our blog.)

(PHOTO: DC Creative Writing Club)

Come out Sept. 20 and meet the staff while enjoying delicious finger foods, a reading by our students, and a screening of one of our films. There’s no cover. Come ready to give! If we reach our fundraising goal, all staff members will shave their heads!

Donation amounts and giveaways are as follows:

$50+ will receive an issue of hArtworks!, the nation’s only inner-city public middle school literary magazine. It is written and edited by students in the after-school writing club at Charles Hart Middle School.

$100+ get the latest issue of hArtworks! and a free journal

$250+ get a DVD of one of our movies, the latest issue of hArtworks! and a free journal

$500+ get all three DVDs of our movies, three issues of hArtworks! and a free journal

Reminders will go out as the date gets closer. Tell a friend! Let’s pack the 5th and K streets Busboys and Poet’s Cullen Room Thursday, Sept. 20.

See you there!

NPR Interview

(ARTWORK: NPR)

Tuesday, I was interviewed on NPR along with Lauren Wilcox, the Washington Post Magazine reporter who wrote the cover story “Is Poetry Dead?” (the article I’m quote in). Check out the show here!

I’m quoted in this WaPo article about DC poetry!

(PHOTO: Andrew Councill/ Washington Post)

That’s right! Lauren Wilcox, the Washington Post Magazine reporter, came through the DC Creative Writing Workshop and interviewed me, the program’s Exec. Dir. Nancy Schwalb, and our students. It was a great time!

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

On a recent weekday in Frances Harrington’s classroom at Hart Middle School in Anacostia, there was a steady volley of balled-up wads of paper into the corner trash cans and a constant mid-level clamor from the desks. The effect wasn’t disorder so much as uncontainable exuberance, which was shepherded by Alan King, one of Hart’s writers-in-residence, a big man with a gentle, shambling presence.

King teaches creative writing at Hart, in an after-school program called the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop as well as in some of the school’s English classes. He had asked the seventh- and eighth-graders of Harrington’s afternoon English class to read a poem called “Appetite,” by Tim Seibles, and use it as a model for a poem about their own cravings. “I have eaten the donuts, the plain-cake, / healthy, whole-wheat donuts,” the poem begins. “…I attacked without reason like a great / Afro-American shark finning the crowded / streets of America — my nappy dorsal / splitting the air, the pale victims / going down fast like Fig Newtons . . .”

“Okay, based on what we know about sharks, are they neat eaters or messy?” King asked the class, explaining the poet’s use of simile.

“Messy,”

they chorused. The students hunched over sheets of notebook paper, frowning.

***

The program’s approach to creative writing is surprisingly traditional. It teaches poetry the way poetry has been taught for nearly a century, the way it is taught in MFA workshops across the country: by studying a poem and then writing one. The program’s teachers are published writers who either have or are working on degrees in creative writing. The best of the student work is published in the school’s literary journal, hArtworks.

If the work is sometimes challenging for the students, the program’s director Nancy Schwalb, who started the workshop in 2000, prefers that to the alternative. Schwalb originally created a competitive poetry slam league for middle-schoolers citywide, but she ended up dismantling it. Judging, she felt, was often a popularity contest that had the kids “relying on cuteness or humor” in their performances; more important, they weren’t learning to write.

“The focus on publishing their work, seeing their work in print, really encourages the kids to be more literary, to use more literary devices,” Schwalb says.

A blond-headed girl named Dajanik Brooks stood next to her desk and read her poem aloud. “I eat chips like a Pac-Man game. I crush on seeds like a trash truck.” There was a smattering of applause.

Read the rest of the article here.

(PHOTO: Thomas Sayers Ellis/Courtesy of Tidal Basin Review)

For those who read about this past Saturday’s book drive at Watts Park and want to donate via Tidal Basin Review, below are mailing and drop-off information:

For folks who wish to send/drop off books for DCPS:

By Mail:

Department of Employment Services
Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander
Constituent Services Office
c/o Amin Muslim
Director of Constituent Services, Ward 7
4058 Minnesota Avenue N.E.
Washington, DC 20019

Drop-Off Info:

Monday-Friday
10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Contact Person: Mr. D. L. Humphrey
(202) 727-8082

4058 Minnesota Avenue N.E.
Washington, DC 20019

(PHOTO: Shelia Henderson)

Walking past DC’s Watts Park in Northeast, the people stopped in their tracks when they heard  Mister Señor Love Daddy, from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, speaking.

The fictitious disc jockey was invoked through a poem by Fresno, Texas-poet Jonathan Moody. Through Derrick Weston Brown’s reading of the poem, Love Daddy held court for three minutes, long enough to lend his voice to an issue of concern not just for the folks on foot, but those driving by, who pulled over to get the 411.

“My people, my people,” he said. “What can I say; say what I can.” And just as baffled as the character and Brown himself were other poets and organizers who took over the park’s Marvin Gaye amphitheater August 6 to do something about the ill-equipped DC public schools’ libraries.

(PHOTO: Shelia Henderson) Ward 7 Council member Yvette M. Alexander and Melanie Henderson.

“It seems the politics of this city are costing our children their right to a quality education,” Melanie Henderson, an organizer for Saturday’s event and managing editor of the literary journal Tidal Basin Review, said in an interview afterwards.

“It is unimaginable what the effect on a child’s self-esteem might be when walking into a nearly-empty school library,” Henderson said.

The last straw for many was the Jan. 23, Washington Post article on Ballou Senior High’s poorly-stocked library. “The literature section of [school librarian] Melissa Jackson’s library…had 63 books one morning last week, not enough to fill five small shelves,” Post Reporter Bill Turque wrote in his article “Librarian at D.C.’s Ballou High Scrambles for Books.”

“In the area marked ‘pure science,’ there were 77 volumes,” he continued. “This is not because the students at the Southeast Washington school had scoured the stacks and checked almost everything out. Ballou’s entire collection consists of 1,185 books, about one per kid.”

And that’s just at one school. Poet and public interest lawyer Brian Gilmore described the public school library system as horrific. “The DC Public School libraries I have seen resemble a library I once saw at Lorton Prison when I taught there in the 1990′s,” he said. “Few books, hardly any good books of any relevance, and the books are ragged, old and insulting.”

“And,” in the words of Mister Señor Love Daddy, “that’s the double-truth, Ruth.”

(PHOTO: Melanie Henderson) Jericho Brown before the event. Thanks for the books, Jericho!

Henderson and others at this past Saturday’s Summer 2011 Literary Arts in The Park wondered how the historic traditional public schools in the nation’s capital were below the 100 book per student threshold. “Our kids here deserve not just enough, but the best,” Henderson said.

Another point of contention were the current disparities in educational resources between the city’s haves and have-nots. “I have also seen libraries at private schools in the area and these libraries are usually stellar,” Gilmore said.

Among those private schools with stellar libraries is Sidwell Friends School, where Sasha and Malia Obama are among the 1,109 students.

In a post on her award-winning website, author and freelance writer Susan Ohanian noted that the school has three libraries. “The Upper Level school library contains over 20,000 volumes,” wrote the former educator and current fellow at both the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

Ohanian noted that Sidwell Friends has a separate area for books about the study of China, adding that students also have access to more than 50 magazines and journals. “The library also subscribes to ProQuest for online periodicals in full text,” she wrote. “This service is available both at the school and to students when off-campus.”

Ohanian sent out a charge for the First Family to correct the disparities. “I know there are thousands of schools across the country hurting for the lack of books, libraries, and librarians, but when we see one little light of a school trying to buck the anti-library tide, we must try to help,” she wrote. “And we should urge our First Family to do likewise.”

The poets and organizers at the Saturday event at Watts Park responded to a similar call to action sent out by Tidal Basin Review, Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, and Ward 7 Council member Yvette M. Alexander.

(PHOTO: Melanie Henderson) Abdul Ali shared a poem about his experiences at a creative writing workshop at Howard University.

The event kicked off a series of book drives to take place around the city to help benefit DC Public School libraries.

Gilmore, who was on the program to perform but didn’t make it because of a last minute scheduling conflict, did collect books for the drive. Though there in spirit, he called Saturday’s event a shift in approach to the educational shortcomings of a community attempting to take back control of education for city youths.

“Instead of complaining about a broken school system that is not designed to work for children of color, and never was, this is a grassroots effort to fill in a much-needed gap,” Gilmore said. “It also…sends a message to the children that someone really does care and you are not just a number on a ‘No Child Left Behind’ report.”

But more needs to be done, Gilmore noted. He suggested the organizers creating a grassroots coalition or a nonprofit to work outside what he calls “the toxic dysfunctional government apparatus.” This coalition or nonprofit would regularly collect and make literature available to DC public school libraries.

(PHOTO: Melanie Henderson) That's me, there!

Saturday’s event was just the initial effort, Gilmore noted, applauding the organizers for “a small, yet, symbolical way” of showing DC youths they’re not alone.

Henderson agreed. “Events like these empower average people to cause change in their own and in the communities of others,” she said. “It puts the power back into the hands of the people, whose love and connection to a place or space will push them to work harder and give more to the positive development and preservation of the culture, or cultures, that have nourished them.”

Henderson hoped residents left inspired to affect change in their own ways. She also hoped the event would spur “wider and stronger community involvement in support of youth.” Like Gilmore, Henderson offered suggestions on how to take the next step.

“This is a problem with a practical solution that everyone can be a part of and feel good about,” Henderson said. “The idea is to take what you know, your own talents and gifts, and your resources and networks and use them to better your community.”

(PHOTO: Melanie Henderson) Yao Hoke Glover and Randall Horton chopping it up.

During the event, the poets took the stage after posing for a group photo with organizers and Ward 7 Council member Yvette M. Alexander.

Among them was Abdul Ali, who jumped at the opportunity to be part of the effort. “I liked the idea of sharing poems with a book drive,” Ali said. “It’s a rare opportunity to do literary activism and a reading all in one.”

Poet Yao Hoke Glover agreed with Ali. “Literacy and the promotion of reading is the foundation of a community’s ability to transfer ideas [and] connect with one another,” Glover said. “The concept of books and literature must be cultivated in the children at an early age.”

That the event took place in Ward 7, with construction on the new Woodson High School in the background, made it all the more symbolic for the poet. “I would hope the event is a very concentrated and solid beginning to the strengthening of D.C. Literary Culture, particularly in the African American Community,” said Glover, who closed out the reading with poems about his father.

The highlight of the event was Mister Señor Love Daddy’s appearance on that humid Saturday. “Yes, children, this is the cool-out corner,” the fictitious disc jockey said in a poem written by Jonathan Moody and performed by Derrick Weston Brown, who opened up his set with OPP (Other People’s Poetry) before reading his own.

The character’s words summed up the mood of those gathered that afternoon in the park. He said, “I’ll be giving you all the help you need.”

For those interested in donating books, please contact Melanie Henderson via email at communitybookdrivedc@gmail.com.

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