Stop being quiet you. Can’t get help without words.
That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? That’s why we tell stories. That’s why we write. If we have learned anything these past couple of years, it is that we need each other. And the only way we will reach each other is through words. Speak up. Ask for help. Offer help.
The above lines are from a poem written by a young man incarcerated at the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Treatment Center. Krier is just one site at which Gemini Ink provides writing arts classes to encourage young people to find power in telling their stories. It’s the type of unique programming that the San Antonio Area Foundation is proud to support through grant funding from its Youth Success impact area.
As the eminent arts educator, writer and activist Jim LaVilla-Havelin pointed out, for youth at Krier, the term “lockdown” means something very different from what most of us know. Jim is one of Gemini Ink’s teaching artists, all of whom are professional writers working with our city’s young people facing daily challenges that would make the best of us bend, if not break.
Because of the pandemic, Jim and fellow instructor, poet Erica DeLaRosa, had to provide one-on-one virtual mentorships with the young writers to, as Jim says, “remember, respond, and shape their voices and their visions.” With patience and persistence, Jim and Erica kept each child reading, writing and seeing what life after lockdown could look like.
I stopped rushing
To me was
Right in front
Of my face
This is where the beauty of writing comes in. Through their words, our children (they belong to all of us) call to us with their new eyes, open minds and vulnerable hearts. A young woman in the wonderful Martinez Street Women’s Center GirlZone program wrote the lines above. Gemini Ink partnered with Martinez Street this summer to engage girls in activities centered on the theme. “Storytelling: Empowering The Self Through Performance.”
Following Gemini Ink’s Read It, Write It, Share It workshop, teaching artists Mandy Lynn and Aminah Decé created lessons encouraging students to read inspirational texts, write their stories and — often the hardest of all — stand in front of an audience of their peers, family and friends and read their works.
The young women who participated in the classes come from difficult living situations, including economic insecurity, high crime neighborhoods and/or complex trauma.
The challenge for Mandy and Aminah was to create a safe, non-judgmental space in which the girls could share their work. Some preferred to present their work anonymously while others chose to use television shows to tell their stories because it felt safer than speaking directly about their experience. The cartoon “Rick and Morty” provided the necessary cover for one girl to express her pain at the loss of her father. That’s art. That is what keeps us going.
Corona for me is like being Sleeping Beauty
Because I always sleep and I’m waiting for this to all end.
Corona is a castle keeping me inside with no way out.
I’m like Rapunzel but I don’t have the long hair to escape.
Let’s face it: Children are awesome. We are so lucky to work with them, to laugh with them, to learn from them. Never was this more on display in their written reflections on the pandemic. At Camelot and Montgomery Elementary Schools and Ed White Middle School, dedicated Gemini Ink teaching artists Erica DeLaRosa, Clint Taylor, Sarah Colby, Carol Gonzales, Chibbi Orduña and Christen Barrón stuck with an equally dedicated bunch of students in a “virtual” writing club, guiding them (and their teachers and administrators, who fought through their own stress, fear and exhaustion) on a year-long exploration of poetry and short fiction.
Gemini Ink’s indefatigable Director of Programs, Florinda Flores-Brown, shared her admiration for the students (like the fourth grader who wrote the above poem “Corona for Me”) by telling them: “The fact that you showed up, created poems and stories, took them through the revision process and are now sharing them speaks to your strength of character… thank you for being the bright spot in our pandemic.”
We are proud to say that every child who participates in a Gemini Ink workshop becomes a published author. We print anthologies and broadsides of their incredible work so that they can see, hold, share and be proud of their stories and the courage it took to put their needs, ideas, and dreams into words.
You can see more of their work and learn about the nuts and bolts of the Gemini Ink Partner Classes program and the funders and friends like the Area Foundation, who make them possible at www.geminiink.org/partner-classes.
We love it when kids use their words — to speak up, to ask for help, to offer help. The help they offer each of us willing to listen is a lesson in optimism. To hope for a better day… and to believe it’s coming. What could be more useful than that?
I hope the new year is a happy color like yellow
I hope the new year is like the yellow on mac-n-cheese
I hope the new year is waving at everyone as long as it can
I hope the new year is slow like a sloth so we can enjoy
the good things about it.
Lifting our youth through the power of learning is at the heart of the Area Foundation’s Youth Success grantmaking impact area. Click here to learn more about our work with our community leaders of tomorrow.
Siri Lindholm is Gemini Ink’s Grant Writer. This article was compiled in coordination with various participants in Gemini Ink’s youth programs.