Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Cultural Leadership program in St. Louis

Students participating in listening session

What a cool group of thoughtful and engaging young people. This past Saturday, April 20, I got the opportunity to spend time talking Civil Rights, the power of language, and African American poetry with a group of about 28 high school students who are participants in the program Cultural Leadership in St. Louis.

Students in the program participate in "cultural activities, dialogue sessions, travel/study, public speaking, leadership training, and facilitated discussions on diversity and creating social change." The activities are designed to increase their awareness "of their own and each other’s history, religion, and culture, and learn valuable skills for facilitating discussions, solving problems, and making change." This group of young people are future change agents or civil rights workers 2.0.

On Saturday, we talked about the importance of developing a kind of "controlled vocabulary" so that members of a group might talk about objects, texts, or events with a sense of connectivity. We identified a few keywords, and then listened to excerpts of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to see if we could recognize some of the concepts that they used such as signifying, naming, and wordplay.

We ended with a listening session, where students utilized audio devices and print-outs of works to cover a selection of poems by poets, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Tyehimba Jess, Claude McKay, and Jessica Care Moore.

From the beginning of the program (when each of the students came up to me, introduced themselves, and welcomed me as soon as I entered the door) throughout the session, the group demonstrated high levels of participatory engagement. What makes all of you so enthusiastic about participation, I asked a group of the students as I was packing up to leave. With no hesitation, one said, "that's what Cultural Leadership is." And another quickly added, "We're troublemakers...of the best kind."

Lessons covering poems with high school students

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