2012 Expressions Talk Up, Not Down Teen Poetry Residency Camp & Hip Hop Poetry Choir –
"Give Them A Hand!"
A Review by J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford
Congratulations to the teens that performed at the Bowie Performing Arts Center (BPAC) at the 6th Annual Hip Hop Poetry Choir. Thank you also for the hundreds who came out to support the teens. I know you’ll agree that it was a wonderful, powerful, and for many of the teens, a transformative night.
The Hip Hop Poetry Choir is the culminating performance by teens who participate in a week-long Expressions Talk Up, Not Down teen poetry residency camp. The event is fully produced by the teens and is presented in a professional theater setting. I’m happy to offer a review of this year’s events. I hope others who attended will do the same.
On Friday, July 13, twenty-five teens proudly stood on a stage -- many for the first time, and spoke their truth, spoke about their dreams, and in some instances, spoke about their anger, fear and pain. These Prince George’s County teens took their turn to turn a page in history. Family, neighbors and friends witnessed the teens’ transformation on stage as they demonstrated their new life skills. The teens showed themselves to be self-aware and conscious individuals well on their way in life. Through presentation of their original poetry they showed they no longer occupied that silent space in a crowded world of followers. They performed from a new space of self-aware, self-respected and confident teens who speak well thought-out views and expressions.
These young people just completed a week of connecting with reality on a new level; one where opportunity and responsibility connect with support and compassion. They learned first-hand in a safe and supportive environment what happens when you speak without thinking about the ramifications of your words. The teens engaged in dialogue about the significance of establishing views and opinions. They learned about having a voice and using it constructively to give feedback to others, and the need to be able to receive constructive and critical feedback as well. They grappled with the importance of stepping outside of their comfort zones when situations call them to step up and speak up in a way that let’s their voices be recognized and respected.
In addition to working with four master poets (Christopher L. Fields, Neville Adams, Sekethia Johnson and Sistah Joy) to develop their ability to effectively express themselves verbally, the teens worked with a camp artist (Lillian Shaw) to develop skills related to visual artistic expression. They also worked with the 4-H staffers on nature and environment awareness and appreciation. The teens also worked on developing group dynamics and trust, as well as athletic activities such as archery, low-rope climbing, night hikes, scavenger hunts and more. This year’s camp even included a session on formal dining etiquette. Some of the teens were interviewed by CTV News, a local tv station that shared information with the community about the camp. All who supported the teens engaged them in ways that helped prepare them for life, allowing the teens to experience and appreciate life more fully.
These twenty-five teens are well on their way to becoming tomorrow’s leaders. They received their first votes of confidence from those that came out and offered thunderous applause throughout the show at the BPAC . For some this inaugural performance experience was first made real when they saw their names in neon lights on the marquee over the entrance to the BPAC as they entered the parking lot. Truly, that Friday night the teens shined like the stars they are! We encourage parents, friends and neighbors who came out, and also those who weren’t able to attend, to continue to afford opportunities for our teens to shine by giving them opportunities to succeed. They are still young and in need of nurturing and loving support. The teens have shown they are deserving of a chance at success. They have demonstrated their willingness to step up into a greater life experience, one made richer by their ability to be in control of themselves in the face of adversity and conflict. They have addressed issues that even many adults have shied away from. They now possess an expanded life-coping skill set and have a community of peers they know they can call upon for the celebrations and the challenges that life will bring their way. We ask you to continue to be part of their community of support, their village.
Thank you again to those who entrusted your teens to us. We pray the teens will continue the work they started at this year’s Expressions: Talk Up/Not Down teen poetry residency camp. Some will opt to return to future Expressions camps. Others may not. Some may return as campers, while others may apply to return as “peer mentors,” where they share their leadership skills, knowledge and insight with teens at future camps. This peer mentor option allows the teen campers to grow even more. Whether your teen attended the camp or you were part of the village that helped them to shine, thank you for taking the time to let our teens know their community cares about and values them. Thank you for taking time now to learn about teens trying to make their lives and their world better. I hope you’ll share this review with friends.
If you couldn’t be a part of this year’s Expressions camp or the Hip Hop Poetry Choir, we invite you to support teens in your community and be on the look-out for the announcement of next year’s camp. We’d love to have you join the village. Let these and other teens know that you care. Give them a chance, and remember to then give them a hand up when you can and a hand of applause whenever possible for a job well done!
One final thank you to the team that made this experience possible – Thank you to Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the Maryland State Arts Council for funding this program. The Expressions Talk Up/Not Down teen poetry residency camp is a program that truly changes lives, both of Prince George’s County teens, and also the lives of all who are touched by their new and enriched life experiences.