Wake up early on the weekends to put in time with my day job? Skip brunch with friends to spend time with students I have to see during the week? Have them in my ear arguing over what songs we play during the long rides together?
Not even a question, I’m so down for it.
I have spent back to back Saturdays with my students, ages 16-19, volunteering, learning and discussing. In the end, I am a better person after these days and I am so very grateful to have been chosen to be a part of their lives.
What we do in the classroom is good and all, but exposure is everything for them. It helps to mold them into well-rounded people. Moreover, it gives me a better way to see them in the classroom if I know how they carry themselves in a more free environment. It helps me to see them as who they are in full, not just as students.
Last Saturday some of the students in our chapter of the National Honor Society went to Camillus House in downtown Miami and had the pleasure of serving dinner to the shelter residents. Camillus House began as a soup kitchen but has grown into an all out “system of care” for the homeless and poor. My students, many of whom come from fairly comfortable means, donned gloves, aprons and hair nets to cater to those who are less fortunate than them. And they did it so effortlessly and lovingly I had to step back and appreciate what I was witnessing. These students spoke to everyone with the same level of respect, whether they were the coordinators or the ones we were serving. . One girl, a five-foot flat 90 pound powerhouse, carried trays, took initiative to clean up before she was asked to and moved gracefully and swiftly among the tables. I had to ask her if she was the eldest child and she said that she was. The curiosity on her face prompted me to explain that it seemed like she was the type to take charge and one that had been in a position to be responsible for others and she said, “well, yeah, things need to be done you can’t wait for other people to do it. You just take the reins and get it done yourself.”
In the end, the kids were excited to have had the experience and to have met the people who were there. They were humbled by the experience and more than ready to roll their sleeves up and get back into it.
The Poetry and Leadership Conference hosted by the Jason Taylor Foundation is one of the greatest events of the year, both for myself and my poetry students. We meet at the school an hour and a half early to make the fifty-six mile trek from Homestead, FL to Hollywood Florida so that they can participate in this conference. Every year 300 or so students from across South Florida wake up early, on a Saturday, to sit in classes, on a Saturday, that teach them how to write, be creative and carry themselves as leaders. Did I mention this was all on a Saturday?
The beauty of it is something else.The kids get to interact with artists and leaders in the community and are exposed 299 other like-minded young creatives. The students range from singers to bloggers, playwrights to visual artists and everything in between. Primarily, though, they are united by the title of “poet”. They begin the day sitting with their respective schools in an auditorium after they receive their schedules and snacks and a shirt – which many proudly put on the moment they receive it. Then they sit in classes and, with the help of the mentors, begin to interact with one another and slowly but surely begin forming friendships and bonds that will go one after this day. I know, I’ve seen it.
There are kids there from other cities that run up and hug me because we’ve seen one another here and there over the years and have had meaningful exchanges, even if they are brief. Students encourage one another, listen to one another and hype one another up while someone hits a beat on a table and they join in for a cypher. And they respect one another. These young artists with their diverse backgrounds become one. They speak on compassion, empathy, progress and undoing social injustice. It is enough to give one hope for the future. If you’re in town, please come see them as they perform at Louder Than a Bomb Florida. It is a festival that gives these kids a voice and a platform and for 3 minutes the world belongs to each of them. Come and be a part of their village. Check here for more information.
And finally, we spoke on being young, angry and Black with the incomparable Ms. Valencia D. Clay, author of Silent Cries Don’t Lead to Healing at the illustrious Yeelen Gallery hosted by the peerless Lady Bookworm. No child, I cannot tone down the reverence. It was everything for my students and me to have participated in this. Partly because I was so hype meeting one of the muses I have found on the interweb, Ms. Valecia D. Clay herself, a fellow educator and writer. But I also met many like-minded brilliant and passionate people who I am more than eager to learn from and network with. The perspectives they shared had me reflect on what my own values are, how much drive I’m giving myself and how to be a stronger, more passionate Marquita. There are so many sound bites playing in my head. “the administration, teachers and parents are three legs to something that is broken and we need to work together“…”you can’t come down to their level, make them come up to yours and if they don’t that’s alright” … “we all need to work on our own prejudices because what we say other people hold we hold ourselves and to combat prejudice we have to begin to fix it within ourselves“…that last one was from one of my students.
The event was a round table discussion about the Black experience, change, defining self, and growth among other things. My students didn’t hesitate on participating and each time they spoke on an issue from their perspective I was filled to the brim with pride. They were so full of conviction and compassion that I had to keep myself from smiling too hard or tearing up so that they would continue to be their naturally brilliant selves.
The truth is, it takes a village. And this weekend and last I was blessed to have met more of the tribe that is truly invested in a better future. Wanna know how I know the kids were forever impacted? Not a single song played on the ride back home. They just talked, and talked and talked about what they learned, who they were and what their dreams are for their own lives. And I listened, hoping to learn as much as I can from them, because sometimes, I am the student.