Ballou High School Poets Have the Write Stuff

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Students from Ballou High School whose original poems appear in a new book called “Truth” include (front row, l-r) Ayanna Jones, Khai Campbell, Zarianna Marshall, Shannon Bradshaw, (back row, l-r) Emir Battle, Isaiah Hunter, Jonathan Steele, and Araiya Brewer. Photo by Stephen Barksdale

A group of Ballou High School students recently achieved something that many seasoned writers would envy: they became published poets. Their class was part of an after-school multi-media arts program sponsored by Do The Write Thing of DC (www.dothewritethingdc.org), a foundation cofounded by G. Sidney Nordé and Lolo Smith dedicated to promoting the long-term development and success of young people.

One component of the program was a poetry club led by teaching artist and poet Asha Gardner,  who coached the students in crafting their own poems and prepared them for participation in poetry and spoken word competitions, including the Ballou Schoolwide Poetry Competition, the citywide Words On Fire Festival sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts, where Ballou Junior Araiya Brewer placed third in the Spoken Word Competition, and the Poetry Out Loud Recitation Competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It was a joy and pleasure to work with these students,” Gardner says, “these young beautiful minds… helping them and holding them accountable for meeting their artistic goals for poetry and the spoken word.” According to Nordé, the poetry workshops gave young people a space “to talk about things that are impacting them in their lives and their communities, [and a chance] to speak their hearts and their minds…during heavy times.” “And,” adds Gardner, “we had a lot of fun!”

Teaching Artist/Poet Asha Gardner’s poetry writing workshops at Ballou HS students led to the publication of “Truth,” which is available on amazon.com.

Gardner also helped her students become first-time published poets, editing more than 58 poems on the themes of self-evaluation and connecting with the world to create a book called “Truth.” The collection includes original works by nine Ballou High School students: Emir Battle, Trinity Bennett, Shannon Bradshaw, Araiya Brewer, Khai Campbell, Patrice Chambers, Isaiah Hunter, Jenesis Marshall and Jonathan Steele. “I learned so much about their resilience,” Gardner says. She points in particular to a poem by Isaiah Hunter, “Take Your Chances,” that urges teens not to wait for permission to do what they want in life, but to be willing to follow their own path.

“Trust your senses,” he writes, “and worry about what you got, not what you’re missing.”

A second component of the Do the Write Thing program is the Teen New Deal, which uses a three-pronged approach to involving young people in transforming society.

As set forth in his book, “The Teen New Deal,” Nordé advocates paying youth with cryptocurrency to attend school and incentivize positive behavior; establishing student government associations to vote on issues such as school uniforms, field trips, and security; and establishing student-based media centers in all high schools so that young people can learn to work responsibly with social media. Students recently participated in a virtual discussion, “Teens Speak: The Teen New Deal,” which focused on Nordé’s initiatives and how effectively they are addressing racism and other societal ills.

In June 10 an online interview with Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer several of the Ballou teen poets, along with Nordé and Gardner, talked about what participating in Do the Write Thing has meant to them. Several students credited the programs with improving their time management and communication skills, and they cited the poetry workshop with helping them to explore and express their emotions.

Nordé confessed that, even at his age (“half a century”), he has been moved and motivated by the “amazing words of inspiration from these young people.” In paraphrasing the late Congressman John Lewis, he said, “Young people are going to be the answer. They may not have all the answers, but if we can harness their brilliance and energy, we can transform society.”

The teen poets have been invited to sign copies of “Truth” at the Authors Pavilion during the prestigious Annual Legislative Conference sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in late September 2022.

Of the work below, which appears in the collection, LoLo Smith notes, “Shannon’s poem is a perfect blend of the components of the after-school multi-media program that included poetry writing and debating the efficacy of solutions promulgated in “The Teen New Deal.” It is also a moving testimonial to one young poet’s determination to make a better future for herself and others.

THE TEEN NEW DEAL
by Shannon Bradshaw

I want our black teens, white teens, all teens, going to school.

Let’s show these adults that young people are the tool.

A Teen New Deal will help us do it.

We can prove it.

Earning incentives should be included.

We’ll be making money every week — just do it.

Let’s deep deep dive into solving racism, hate and crime.

All people can be equalized.

It’s 2022, the pandemic is conquered.

Diversity is the bigger issue.

We still getting shot at school.

We still can’t vote at school.

We still getting killed over and over by the law.

This can’t go on any longer, something needs to change.

We need A TEEN NEW DEAL!!