For our Community Service initiative, we had the opportunity of collaborating with the YWCA of Carlisle to create and facilitate a Spoken Word workshop. The intention behind creating this workshop was in hopes of engaging residents, particularly youths, from the lower income and predominately African American Community in dialogue about their backgrounds using spoken word as a vehicle. It was all possible in great part thanks to Ms. Sonya Browne and members of the YWCA. The YWCA, known for servicing the community, was founded in Carlisle in 1919 and sought to eradicate lingering traces of systematic, structural oppression along racial and gender lines so that women might be empowered and advocating for. The YWCA has been involved in the different sectors of Carlisle through its youth enrichment programs, services for victims of sexual assault, and rape in addition to events to hosting public events to raise awareness like their upcoming annual race against racism.
For our partnership, we volunteered through one of the YWCA’s young women’s enrichment programs entitled “Girl Power”, which serves as both an academic and personal enhancer for girls in the Carlisle school district (middle and high school). In partnering with the YWCA and Girl Power, we sought to engage participants in honest dialogue about matters permeating throughout their community as well as personal narratives. Having just read Howard McGary, Race and Social Justice, in addition to our discussions in class, we were weary that there would be a feeling of distance between us as Dickinson College students, and the members of the local community. To be told, prior to to beginning our project that that over the course of time there has been a decline in Dickinson’s involvement in the broader Carlisle Community interaction we found it to be a bit disheartening and we wanted to ensure that feeling of distance was not presence in our work as facilitators and mentors. Acknowledging also the economic disparity that persists in the Carlisle community, not only did we wish to bring to the table issues of racial sexual and domestic violence as the YWCA has for almost a century, but we wanted to bring light to language, and the microaggressions that are so ingrained in society that it that detracts from our making Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and America, a safe space for all.
Through, Spoken Word, we hoped to give the members of the Carlisle community, who through some form of their identity have faced a sense of erasure by society around them, a platform to profess their narratives, tools to reach out and make meaningful connections with others, and a resource to find solace, when in times of personal trouble. This workshop in getting people to learn to speak with each other about their backgrounds, broke some initial lines of uncomfortability and it is our hope it will continue for years to come, with support from Dickinson College.
I began my contributions to this workshop by refreshing my understanding of the power of spoken word poetry. In doing so I referenced my final research presentation I submitted for Professor Johnson’s class Intro to Africana Studies which discussed the importance of spoken word poets during times of social movements. Following this I was introduced to the ladies of the youth group created by the YWCA, Girl Power at the Carlisle High School. I spoke to the ladies briefly introducing the art of spoken word where interestingly majority of the class had not heard of spoken word poetry. This made for a better conversation because I was able to give some background information on the art of spoken word, what it is, what it functions as in communities of color and what people today use this art for. After getting the ladies interested I showed a video of Dickinson alumni Brittany Barker performing one of her piece at a Poetry Slam. Following this presentation I engaged the ladies in a debriefing having them explain initial reactions to Brittany’s performance, her words, delivery and presence. I then gauged the audience to see how many of the ladies in the room would be interested in a poetry workshop after viewing the embodiment of spoken word, about half of the class rose their hands. I then proceeded to perform my own piece for the girls to further illustrate the power of spoken word, following my performance more hands rose to express interest in the workshop.
It was imperative for me as a woman of color to express to other women of color that their voices and stories have the power to change their community. In doing so I referenced the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and emphasized that this was an organization comprised of youths their age, who had a lasting impact on the social movement at that time. My aim was to help show these ladies that they possess agency as well as they should engage their citizenship as they have a stake in their community. Expressed by Howard McGary in his book Race and Social Justice civilians who do not feel that they have a say in the occurrences of their community normally do not exercise their citizenship as we saw was the case for inhabitant of Lakestown in the novel Lakestown Rebellion. Those who do not feel valued by their communities do not have an urgency to contribute to their community and I hoped to make sure this was not the case for these youths. When I mentioned the importance of using your voice in your community one girl mentioned that people don’t understand teenagers therefore it makes no sense to even bother, that was my bargaining point. I emphasized that the fact that teenagers are misunderstood is the reason for raising their voice because spoken word poets are the voices of their communities, these ladies are the voice of their community. My mission then became to help these ladies develop their voices and see that indeed they have a stake in their community.
Following my visit to the high school Greg and I met at the YWCA to conduct our first workshop. To prepare for this we brainstormed the optimal way to introduce the topic of spoken word to this group of people considering that we are seen as strangers already. We took what Mc.Gary mentioned in his book and first sought to bridge the gap between intellectual of the community. We approached the space by first identifying ourselves and lead an icebreaker (very Dickinson like) to allow for a safe space. We then began our discussion of spoken word poetry by reading the well acclaimed Mother to Son by Langston Hughes. From there we talked about our own stairs in our lives (in relation to crystal stairs in the poem), this was the catalyst of our meeting. Providing a space for participants to reflect and feel comfortable to share, we talked about those stairs (symbolic of hardships in their lives) in their life and saw how deep people were getting and heard the passion in their voices. This was a perfect segway into discussing the passion in the delivery of spoken word and commanding your space. From there we asked a volunteer to reread the poem for us but this time channeling their personal stairs and conjure up that passion. This was the climax of our meeting for we not only realized the power of words but in addition we acknowledge the passion in writing and delivering a spoken word poem. From there we had them write their own spoken word poems, guidelines being that they had to channel their passion, their voice and be as open as possible. This culminated in the best feeling I could’ve experienced as a poet. We asked a few people to share as they felt comfortable and the responses were astonishing. People shared very personal experiences and encounters that allowed the space to morph into not just a learning space but a healing space. At this moment participants experienced the transformative power of spoken word poetry. This experience allowed them to see and tap into the transformative power of their words. Though this was the first workshop it laid the blueprint for ones to come. I anticipate future workshops to be better and even more powerful as I plan to talk about the bodily embodiment of one’s poetry and the connection between the performer and his/her’s audience to create the optimal experience as Crystal Leigh Endsley mentions in her book The Fifth Element. All in all, this service learning opportunity has been transformative for myself and the community and is the epitome of social justice, bringing the community together in a transformative manner.
By: Samantha Miller ‘18
To begin with Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son, set the tone for one of the most impactful two house I have had the pleasure of spending in my time here as a Dickinson student. To reflect on the words of the mother, in the poem who explained to her child that her life has not been the perfect “crystal staircase” as most presumed of life, enabled us in the workshop to find common ground in the inherently imperfect idea of living. However, to establish a center of beliefs enabled us create a safe space, as we know that individuals very rarely leave common ground in the same direction. And in respecting the privacy of those in the workshops, we will not include names of those in attendance, however what was shared, included stories of domestic abuse mental disorders, and broken homes to name a few. In what became a sacred space, the 25 of us, though sharing our stories, invited each other into our experiences, and I watched as the 15 year-olds, to the 15 at heart, began to discuss how life began to impacted us. rather than judge or be quick to criticize one for the life choices that have lead them to this point.
From reflecting on the crystal stairs that we were told existed, we considered all the ideas that make life perfect, or ideal. we reflected upon the documents like The Constitution Of The United States Of America, and Declaration of Independence briefly to get a sense of what a crystal stair might look like. This portion, of the activity was important because it reminded us that not always will everyone have the same visions for the perfect society, but it was a experiment requiring us to put aside our political beliefs in order to hear and understand what it is that someone else might need to feel whole. For the group the came in different forms, ranging from seeing the difference in the language used, enabling an environment that breaks down gender norms, creating a new idea of what the household can look like, revitalizing expectations that adults might have for their children, or even just being able to have spent more time with loved one prior to them passing away.
At this point in our workshop, things begin take a heavier tone and at the same time more voices that were initially hesitant about opening up, became more willing to share. So we knew that there was a effective means of engagement currently taking place. There was one mother in attendance who came with her daughter, and in her desire for a have in had a more “crystal stair”, spoke of how she regretted having gotten pregnant young age, and some of the love choices she made. For the mother, in the end the mother she felt that she at times although trying her best, didn’t feel completely able to provide to give her daughter the best living opportunity that she would have hoped for. And for her daughter who was there with her to see her mother wishing that she could’ve provided more to her, on the verge of tears showed to us that not only how the poetry can be used to bring together people who might not have known each other, but to bring together families who might not have the words or the know how to speak what really affects them.
Afterwards we watched the spoken word piece “10 Things I Want To Say To a Black Woman” by Joshua Bennett. To be honest, although the group gathered did not consist predominately of women of color, we courage the audience to internalize the words, to consider the realities that exist socioeconomically which have that contributed to the erasure and demoralization of women of color. Additionally, we encouraged the group to take note of how Joshua Bennett also incorporated words of encouragement in his analysis. How in this poem he sought to affirm the personhood and the value to those who society says doesn’t matter. Of course it being such a romantic poem afterwards there were quite a few jokes and laughs about “where can we find more “men like him” to which we’ve responded, that first Joshua Bennett like no individual on this earth, is perfect however to create enter bring forth more people cognizant of the interconnectedness of oppression in its multiple forms especially in the Carlisle community, would require that more individuals are able to share their story.
So we concluded with one of my favorite prompts for writing which is “10 Things That I Would Love To Say To The Younger Me”. To not make it simply list, devoid of emotion and attachment, we encouraged those in attendance to include their lived stories in these lessons they would’ve said to themselves because that provides a human face for the realities plague people. “One of the young ladies asked can I focus on the good things and not the bad?” To which we responded, to be an effective communicator and for spoken word, the two are inherently interlinked. Negative moments tell the audience of life as it is, has been and often how we have gotten through some of the most the defining events of our growth. And to incorporate those joyous moments gives hope to the audience of future, potential, and strategies to overcome or to cope with their circumstance. After 10 minutes, which is too short to write a full length poem, but just long enough the desire to continue writing hit its peak at the moment the time limit is up everybody in attendance was inspired, hoping and wishing to continue their peace. The “10 drill” as my mentor likes to call this activity is effective because for the writer there was always work that is unfinished. But after opening the floor for the Group to share, hearts begin to unfold, emotions came up to breaking points, and through sharing, we all realized there’re so much more that, which often times we just don’t have the time for.
In conclusion, our workshop was a success, because we were able to get individuals speaking about things that are personal. And we understand and respect that for people to do so in a space, around a bunch of others that they have just met can be one of the most frightening experiences for someone just learning to find their voice. It was our hope, that this workshop would be continued for years to come. In seeing the value of this initiative, and the potential impact on the community both Samantha and I have asked Ms. Brown for the opportunity to come back and lead another workshop, even if after the end of classes, because, to host an event once, that pulled this much emotionally, from the participants, without a opportunity to continue and give drive to writing, we feel is morally irresponsible, and we do not wish to leave the community with that impression. To be here, as a facilitator made us mindful not only of our blessing as Dickinson College students, but also mindful of our incentive, and our requirement to be our sister and brothers keeper in service.
-Gregory Boles ‘16
10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman
BY Joshua Bennett
Endsley, Crystal Leigh. 2015. The Fifth Element: Social Justice Pedagogy through Spoken Word
Poetry. New York: SUNY Press.
Lattany, Kristin Hunter. 2003. The Lakestown Rebellion. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press.
McGary, Howard. 1999. “The African American Underclass and the Question of Values.” In Race
and Social Justice . Massachussets: Blackwell Publishers .
Miller, Samantha. 2015. “Spoken Word Poetry: Differences and Similarity to Hip-Hop.”
Presentation. Carlisle: Prezi , April 26.
Mother to Son
By Langston Hughes
Crime Statistics on Carlisle
Possible Improvements for the future
We have only had one full workshop with the community but it was enough for us to know how we want to expand and remodel this program. For starters we realize that sometimes the best way to help a community is to go into the community and engage. As any good ethnographer knows, it is imperative to establish trust with the community before you can go in and help, and for that we need more time. We want to start the program off by going into the Carlisle community be it setting up a meet and greet in a popular park or the Carlisle High School. We need to establish a bond with the participants before we can ask them to share their stories and from there empowering their voices. This means that we would need to start the program approximately three weeks before the actual workshop to build interest and a relationship with the community.
One way to do so is a major spoken word event, prior to the workshop, preferably not at Dickinson because for our target audience, we have learned might be hesitant on attending. from our introduction to Ms Sonya and To begin there would need to be a marketing team whose sole focus in getting the information about ikewise we would need to establish an outreach committee to guarantee the advertisement of the program and making sure that it is being advertised to the right community. Lastly we believe that we can help bring the community together by having a culminating show after the workshops at the Start Community Center and invite the community and engage in a dialogue after the show. Ultimately we would need more time to better plan the vision, execution and (if applicable) monetary contributions that would be needed to make this workshop a success.