On the first day at Tate we read a few poems. This was myself and two teaching artists (Idris Goodwin and Barry Vaxter). The girls loved Barry. The boys loved Idris. And me- well, they liked watching a 30 year old white guy rap.
As we were leaving Junior approached us in the main office. Junior is about 16, Hispanic and full of swagger. He sat during the presentation with those boys who snicker at everything. He sat and he watched as they did. ANd now he was asking us when we would be back.
“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday” we tell him.
“Can I come?”
“We’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
The Secretary shakes her head as he leaves. “I can’t believe that boy is interested in doing this,” she says- letting us know less than a minute how the world sees him.
The first day he shows up. He’s the only boy there. There’s only two other girls who come- both probably hoping to see Barry, who to their chagrin, is not there. The teachers tell us that with the holiday and the week between us presenting and then teaching most of the kids who signed up (23 in all) forgot we’d be there today. All of the kids have jobs after school or kids (or both).
We excite them anyway, we believe this type of work is like a prairie fire- starts small and then grows quick.
Junior comes around as the class goes on. We do some writing. He has some gun talk, some braggadacio, aping his favorite rappers. I ask him what he’s about. He looks at me… says nothing.
The next class there are 4 more students. “I heard it was cool,” one says.
Junior comes up to me again and says “I wrote something after last class. Can I read it before I leave?”
“Sure” I say.
We do writing exercises. We watch a great poem about inner struggle by Daniel Beaty. They read a list of ways they see themselves, they read a list of ways they think the world sees them in return. We’re about to leave and Junior says- “cool if I read now.”
“Listen to my lyrics
As I paint a picture
Vivid like no other
2 sisters, 1 mother
Daddy ain’t around
Kept a frown on my face
I got his name, I’m a Junior so what does that leave me to do, but take his place?
Getting up early
Ready for Tate
We start at 9 so I shouldn’t be late
In this place trying to get an education
Trying to get paid and get that cheddar
It’s hard when you’re bi-polar
Like Iowa weather
Is a puzzle
You can’t put it together.”