Guest Blog Post by Executive Director, Steve Handoyo
“Sometimes you need to step back to see the progress you've made” – Kunthearath Nhek-Morrissey 1/17
Our tutors, Tutor Coordinator, and Programming Director devote hours each week to the students at Marygrove, and now biweekly at Lift for Life Gym. I am only able to come to workshops every few months and am humbled by their dedication and consistent mentorship. These tutors and students have built a space that is honest, nurturing, spirited, proud, and effective. The warmth of familiarity greeted me as I walked into Drury House a couple weeks ago, notable for an array of updated laptops donated or lent each week the past semester.
The young men at Drury House are teenagers, and thus masters at doling out a minimum of outward enthusiasm during lessons or individual exchanges. And yet, those minds, seemingly slumbering, whir silent and sharp. One student I’ve seen over the past year sat before a pile of books with notebook out, while the other students tapped and typed away. He had been tasked with writing and performing a poem for Black History Month at school. Already armed with a poetry book and a rhyming dictionary, I handed him a copy of the Breakbeat Poets Anthology I had been carrying as we prepared for our visit from Louder Than a Bomb poets for our April Poetry Month event.
Our young student flipped listlessly through the books. Realizing my prompts were counterproductive to his reading, I swiveled around to another student behind me working on job applications. When I turned back around after a spell, the books were closed, and the young writer was 8 lines deep. I was a touch jealous at that point. The muse has long since swiveled from me herself, and I envied the steady drive of that pencil against the page.
As our 30-minute homework segment wrapped, and he put his pencil down, I asked if I could read his work. He handed over his piece without pause. Good literature is obvious. His talent was evident, but so was the craft. I saw a year of Anna’s lesson plans staring back at me. I saw statements that would otherwise be precocious if not coming from the experience of a 17-year-old at a Children’s Home. I saw the fear and defiance of a nation spoken through the voice of a teenager. As he cited the poems from the books as inspiration, I saw that I was wrong about his supposed listless flips. I saw that I lacked the words to convey my reaction with proper respect though I made attempts.
Anna corralled the cacophany of tutors and students, tugging their gaze from screens, and commenced her creative writing lesson. Through pieces from hip-hop to translated works, and culminating in audio from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” passage, she demonstrated the power of anaphora (repetition of a word or phrase at the start of a line) and epistrophe (repetition at the end of a line). Again, the pencil met paper, and with the lesson ringing in his ears, epistrophe and anaphora swirled along with internal and external rhymes into a torrent of pride and promise.
I’ve spent too many days and, we can all agree, too many words attempting to describe the tight, effective, rolling talent of that young artist. Through almost 2 years of weekly sessions, the tutors and students of YourWords STL have painstakingly honed potent voices with stories to tell. It’s plain to me the leaps I see each time I can attend a workshop. Their weekly incremental work built on trust and dedication give the rest of us these jarring time-lapse illusions of rapid leaps forward.
I hope if they step back just a bit, the tutors and students can see the rich, exacting, stunning journey they have made so far.