Taking The Next Step

In a TED talk that has taken the interwebs by storm, Sarah Kay discusses spoken word poetry – her own evolution as a poet as well as her work through her nonprofit organization, Project V.O.I.C.E. The two pieces she performs as part of this talk stand on their own.

In watching this talk, two things jumped out at me:

1) Sarah describes her journey in three steps. The steps that Sarah outlines are really challenging. Reach is based on the idea that we can help teens take those first two steps – we can teach teens to believe “I can,” and we can motivate them to move toward “I will.” To do this difficult work, we must acknowledge the fact that our students hear “You can’t” and “You won’t” over and over again. We must provide our students with avenues to see themselves anew – to see that they truly can and will. The scariest part of this journey is that these two steps bring you to an intimidating third step – I call it owning individuality. And, for many teens, there is nothing scarier than being different. The systems that touch our children, as they currently exist, often crush the spirit behind steps one and two. We need to provide opportunities for their discovery. Then, we must enthusiastically support our teens in the pursuit of step three.

2) Any parent would be proud of the work Sarah currently does. But, how many parents would enthusiastically support a fourteen year old’s desire to spend time at a New York City bar to learn the intricacies of spoken word poetry? Often, the best parents simply step out of the way. There is a lot to be learned from enthusiastically pursuing something. Anything. For Sarah, that was poetry. It would have been easy for her parents to say that a fourteen year old should not be spending time at a bar, but she would have missed out on the richness of that experience. Teens can do amazing things if we simply get out of their way. And, having the opportunity to be good at something catalyzes growth in other areas.

Each day, Reach’s students show that they can. Their experience in our program helps them develop the armor necessary to confront all the you can’ts they face each day. Our greatest challenge is in helping our tutors realize that they can carry that “I can” with them as they encounter negative judgments each day. Regardless of what they have done and what people expect that they will do, we know they can. Now, they must decide that they will.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


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