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  • May 14th, 2009 | 9:23 PM
My Pitch for the Arts Connect Program

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak at our county budget planning session in support of the Arts Council program that gave me a grant for my incarcerated poetry project. There were several speakers who had several minutes to talk about how they were involved with various Arts Council projects. I prepped a 1, 2, and 3 minute talk and then, as often happens, altered it a bit when I was there. I told a few people that I would post what I said. Here's the longest version. I didn't get to say all of it but I did share most of it.

I’m here to speak on behalf of the Arts Connect program which has given me grants to go into alternative schools and teach what I know how to do best . . . spill your guts on paper.

But I am not only here to speak for the Arts Council.

I am here to speak for the kids. They are locked up both literally and metaphorically. They have been in and of gangs, jail, and foster homes. They have learning problems, language problems, and a giant dose of attitude - but they all have something to say.

The lonely boy whose dad only cared about getting drunk and smacking him around wrote love poems for his girlfriend.

The boy who was an overachiever at everything, including being a gang member, wrote long poems about his family and how much they meant to him.

The boy who knew he might never get out of jail again wrote poems of apology to his mother.

Powerful stuff. Becoming involved in poetry helped open the prison doors of their souls. They became vulnerable and real. The simple act of me showing up every session, no matter how hard they pushed me away, showed them someone cared. It gave them hope. And if we can give them hope, we can help them make a change in their life.

Artists and musicians and writers need to go into these schools to work with challenged youth. We need to dare these kids to look at their lives differently. We need to give them new tools for expressing themselves.

A few years ago I did a year long residency at another alternative school. One of the most difficult students was Edgar. He was big, built like a battering ram. He had escaped a detention facility and had been on the run for two years. At sixteen he was back in the classroom and wearing an electronic surveillance ankle bracelet.  He wrote about gang life, getting drunk, and hurting people.

He was the only student who ever made me feel afraid and I never really felt like I connected with him until the day I asked the class, "If you could go back and change something in your life, what  would change and why?"

Some kids went right to work writing. But not Edgar. He just leaned over the desk and held his head in his hands. When I asked him what was wrong he told me he didn't have enough paper. I put a stack of paper on his desk.

Then he told me no, he meant, there wasn't enough paper in the world for him to write about it all. He said he'd change everything. Then he said that it didn't matter. That he had screwed up, he was going to court the next week, and he knew he was going to be locked up again.

I didn't ask any questions. I just told him to write. All the other students finished and left but Edgar kept on writing. When he finally got ready to go he told me that writing was hard but that it made him think.

And sometimes it even made him feel sorry for the things he had done.

That's why we need programs like Arts Connect.

(Tags: )
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 18 comments — Leave comment )
May 15th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Wow. Just wow. I'm glad you're there for them and if I find a way to help in my community that way, I will...
May 19th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Pamm. Sorry for the delay in a reply.
May 15th, 2009 08:51 am (UTC)
You nailed it
I cannot see how they could fail to be swayed by your speech. I loved the way you shared their stories, gave them a voice.

Book Chook
May 19th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
Re: You nailed it
Thanks so much. Here's hoping it helps!
May 15th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
So when will you know the outcome?
You did all you can do!
Real life stories are always the best
and it should should have at least made them think.
There is a lot of me in that story.
Obviously not the criminal aspect
but the understanding that there is just not enough paper in the world.
I just don't know where to start and then when I do I can write 100 pages
that probably mean nothing to anybody but me
so it is so important for this program to be able to continue
even if you can reach and save just one person it is worth it,
You gave it your best shot and that is all you can do so good luck.
One more thing I wish I was not so far away sometimes
If only to be there for you to give me the courage
To write the words I need to so my life does not seem
so muddled all the time

- Anne McKenna
May 19th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Anne. I know you understand.
May 15th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
A moving and powerful testimony, Susan. It brought tears to my eyes! I love how you made the presentation so personal (and poetic!) in so very few words. I really hope the program is funded again.
May 19th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Mary Beth. I'm hoping the funding continues as well. The chance to touch these kids, however briefly, is very importants.
May 15th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
AWESOME! I'm glad you got to share most of this!
May 19th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kim!
May 15th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this, Susan, and for what you do for these kids.
May 19th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading, Anne Marie. When I was in the midst of working with them I wondered what the heck I was doing but now, now I wish I could do it again right away. It made me feel connected.
(Deleted comment)
May 19th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Melodye. I wish I had brought them to tears but alas, I saw most of them disengage when I started to talk. I hope they choose hope too.
May 15th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, excellent! By the end, I wanted to stand up and cheer. You went, girl! If that doesn't sway them, nothing will. Will keep my fingers crossed.
(Deleted comment)
May 19th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Laura, thanks for reading! I wish I could believe that it made a difference but I watched so many of them disengage when I said "poet" that it is hard to hope. (Sorry for the late reply. This switching computers is making me crazy.)
May 18th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
So glad you are speaking out, Susan. Arts Connect needs be there.
May 19th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Lee. And I'm sorry I didn't make your Deb Ball event. I hope you had a grand time!
May 20th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
S.F. Deb Ball
It was a very nice event, and I would have enjoyed seeing you there, but I know how busy you are. Maybe we'll bump into each other in L.A.in August.

( 18 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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