Lessons in Educational Emancipation from the Radical Teaching Life of Hal Adams
Edited By Bill Ayers, Caroline Heller and Janise Hurtig
Chapter Nine: Making the ordinary extraordinary: Youth writing, publishing and performing poetry (Peter Kahn)
I never enjoyed, nor understood, poetry until 1992, when I was a 23-year-old so- cial worker in Chicago. I had recently been promoted to Education Coordinator from Caseworker/Counselor at the Neon Street Center for Youth. We worked with homeless teens and wards of the state—youth ages 14–21 who had not made it in the foster care system. These were kids abandoned and abused by their fam- ilies, kids who dropped out and were kicked out of school. They were suicidal, depressed, angry, and often violent. Some went on to prison (one for murder) and others went to an early grave. I was asked to organize Black History Month events and saw a review of a performance troupe called “In the Spirit,” comprised of a songstress, poet, and sto- ryteller. I brought them in to work with my kids and saw them open up in ways I never thought possible. It was a respite from the turbulence of their lives and a way to reconcile the wrongs that had been done to them and that they had done. That creative trio of adults got our kids to write stories and poems about what their lives had been like prior to being abandoned, kicked out or running away, about the trauma they had faced, and about their hopes and dreams. The songstress in- corporated spirituals such as “The Storm Is Passing Over” and “Motherless Child” that kids sang with her, tears streaming down their faces. Through this project, coined “Voices...
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