Inspiration Story Problem:
At the end of the Student Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, 28 poets, including college students attending the summit as well as several of the summit’s presenters, facilitators and organizers, participated in a community-generated poetry activity I designed around Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” connected to the Summit themes: Your Voice Matters, Let Your Voice be Heard, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The various groups produced and shared five poems. In addition, about a dozen participants not involved in writing the poems, including LCC Trustee Angela Mathews, observed the process and were part of the audience listening to the poets read their community-generated poetry.
How it came about:
August 2019, right before my Fall 2019 sabbatical to work on all things Poetry Project was to begin, I was asked by LCC’s Diversity Project Coordinator, Jonathan Rosewood, on behalf of the 400 Year Committee of African American History, to be part of the Student Summit they were putting on in September. Much like with the One Book Wrap-up session, without pause, I said “Sure!”.
My part of the Summit ended up being a community-generated poetry activity I designed, which took place at the end of the summit, for the college students and others remaining after the high school student attendees were done for the day.
Information on the Student Summit can be found here and a video titled “Highlights from the 400 Years Diversity Summit Event” containing some of the day’s highlights – including some footage from the poetry activity 🙂 – can be found here . In addition LCC’s Newsletter The Star, from 9/26/19, included an article regarding the Summit (which included a picture from the poetry activity!):
College hosts 300 students for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit
The Student Summit on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was held Friday, Sept. 20, at the Downtown Campus. More than 300 students attended the day-long event, including college students from LCC, Michigan State University and Davenport University, as well as a select group from area high schools.
State Rep. Sarah Anthony kicked off the event, followed by LCC faculty, staff and local professionals presenting workshops on financial literacy, diversity and inclusion, mental health, and more. Lunch in the Commons included tables for college departments to share information with attendees as well as service projects to be completed by participants. The lunch hour also included a keynote address from motivational speaker Shon Hart.
The day concluded with a community poetry project led by Professor Barbara Clauer and poetry performances from student Ferris Blackwell and Professor Ravon Keith. LCC Chief Diversity Officer Tonya Bailey gave the closing keynote. The planning committee was pleased with the success of the day and hopes to continue it annually.
For the activity itself, I used the last line of Hughes’ poem “I, Too” – “I too, am America” – as inspiration for other prompt lines from which participants could choose according to their own interests. I was going to play audio of Hughes reading the poem but by happy accident, Professor Ravon Keith had already planned to read the same poem to begin the session. Each of the tables had the essential materials: sticky notes, markers, paper, and a big tablet for gathering the final poem. In addition, one of the following prompts sat in the middle of the table, and as participants entered the room I asked them to sit at the table with the phrase that spoke to them. They chose from:
- I, too, am America
- I, too, have a voice
- I, too, am a Citizen
- I, too, am powerful
- I, too, am equal
Ultimately, participants were all drawn to the prompts that had the words “America”, “Voice” or , “Powerful” in them. I introduced myself and gave a quick “no poetry experience necessary” pep talk along with reiterating the main theme of the summit: your voice matters. Then we turned to the hand out and I explained the activity.
From the activity sheet I created to give to each participant
Themes for the summit = Your Voice Matters, Let Your Voice be Heard, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Purpose: Our community-generated poetry activity is a way to wrap up, reflect, be creative, and end the day feeling connected to each other and to the larger themes of this summit. A community-generated activity like this depends on your input: your voice matters and is powerful.
- Listen to and read Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” published in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance. It continues to resonate with some of today’s themes: inclusion, diversity, equity, and raising one’s voice. Hughes wrote “I, Too” responding to Walt Whitman’s 1860 poem “I Hear America Singing”.
- We’ll be using versions of the last line of Hughes’ poem, “I, too, am America” as inspiration for community-generated poems each table will create.
Creating the poems:
- Choose your table and its inspiration line quickly – 10 people max at each table please!
- Reflect on the poem (below) and the inspiration line. Here is where you let your voice be heard: What does the inspiration line make you think of? Or feel? What do you want to add? How do you want to say it?
- Then, on the sticky note provided, write your own line or two. Be ready to share with the table.
- Go around the table listening to everyone read their lines.
- Then, as a group, decide on the best order of the lines to follow the inspiration line (which is line one). The easiest way to see and hear the poem come together is to experiment with putting the sticky notes in the order your table has decided on, using one of the big sheets provided.
- Once your group has put the sticky note lines in order, have someone with neat handwriting write your table’s “I, Too” poem on one of the big tablet sheets provided.
- Sign your names – you are poets!
- Decide on a reader for your table – practice reading it once or twice to the table.
- Share your community-generated poem with us all and be appreciated 🙂I, Too I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes. Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then. Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed— I, too, am America. -- Langston Hughes 1926
All within the space of about 45 minutes, the groups were introduced to the activity, wrote their own lines, worked to weave those lines together into poems, and then wrote out their poems on the large sheets of paper to which they then signed their names as the poets. And finally, each group came to the podium to read their community-generated poems for the audience. They did an amazing job, not only weaving their lines together with the inspiration prompt, but also connecting to and amplifying the themes for the day in their own words, and sharing the poems with an appreciative crowd. Snaps and applause abounded.
Poem by Areli Espinosa, Courtney Kidder, Joe Martin, and Bridget Denise Webb, inspired by the line “I, too, have a voice”:
I, too, have a voice I can speak. Let me speak Speak up Speak out Activism, Advocacy I, too, can make a difference What happened to We are Americans? I, too, can represent, because we all represent beauty. And that beauty makes the picture. I, too, have importance I, too, contribute to the picture The picture does not have to be perfect There is no right way to be me There is no right way to be beautiful. Does race matter in America? Let the haters eat in the kitchen.
Poem by Mahima Biswa, Gary Cox, Kenneth Franklin (MSU BSA), Esmerelda, Prisca Mtimavalye, and Richard Winston inspired by the line “I, too, have a voice”:
I, too, have a voice. I feel pain; I feel lost. I, too, cry in the late night. I, too, have feelings. I am hurt, so why did you leave? I, too, have a voice. It is just as important as others. It is filled with confidence and hope. I will use it without regret. I, too, will shout until I am heard. I, too, pay attention.
Poem by Dina Abdulamir, Kyle Atwood, Hadel Essa, and Terrell Nelson inspired by the line “I, too, am America”:
I, too, am America I am the last one I, too, is proud of what I am. I am not free as a black man I, too, am a survivor of hatred.
Poem by Madison Buckholz, Maria del Mar Osma Potes, Jahmallia Forde, Brandon Lawler, Lisa Morgan, Angela Patrick, and Katrina Zimmermann inspired by the line “I, too, am America”:
I, too, am America… I am able to use my voice to say I, too am America… I live, work, learn, socialize. I pay taxes and help make America great again. We, too, are America… Although we were born near and far. I, too, am America… I chafe under your expectations of home and hearth. I, too, am America… Oppressed and marginalized. Poor and ostracized. I, too, am America… Where there is freedom. But, is it really free?
Poem by Cortney Browning ,Carl Browning, Jr., Keonte Campbell, Alex Rivera Cordero, Marisa Elzy, Basil Oli, and Alyeea Turner, inspired by the line “I, too, am powerful”:
I, too, am powerful. I, too, am important, I, too, possess value. My resistance is my display of power, God gave me power! My presence is strong. My thoughts are valuable, I bring a different flavor of strength to the team to make the team powerful. I am strong. They speak, like I am young. I am not. My mind is clear, and I wait patiently. One day they will look at me and realize, I, too, am powerful. I, too, am a black woman, I have a voice that is more than just noise. I, too, am powerful. Embracing my uniqueness and how it shows up in how I talk, how I walk, and carry myself. Feudal lords look down on the scrambling serfs, that are we Except you refuse to be that lowly figure. You are the overpass Whose level I aspire to meet.
At the end of the session, many of the participants said how much they enjoyed the activity, and there was a feeling of elation in the room at what we all had created in a such a short amount of time. From my follow-up e-mail sharing the poems (both the picture of the signed copies on my office floor and the electronic versions with all the poets’ names and contact information) with Summit organizers, Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tonya Bailey, and Diversity Project Coordinator Jonathan Rosewood:
From Barb: Thank you so much for the wonderful opportunity to help participants reflect, connect, and create poetry at the end of the amazing Student Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As with all previous iterations, I’m so awed and encouraged by the ways students/participants keep stepping into the invitation to connect that I get to make to them with this crazy LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project I’m continuing to develop. An event like the Student Summit continues to expand my hopes and dreams for all its variations and possibilities. Please keep me and the Poetry Project in mind for future events connected to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
I am attaching a document that includes the directions for the activity I developed for the Summit, as well as the poems the five different groups created. Under each poem I’ve listed the names and e-mail addresses of the poets for if/when we would like to share this work with them. I also have the original poster sized poems with the poets’ signatures on them — pic of them attached…covering the floor of my home office 🙂 I remember that at the end of the day, 9/20, we briefly discussed ways to preserve/display those originals. What would we like to do with them? I have lots of similar sheets all around my office from previous poetry projects so I’m happy to hang on to them until a decision is made.
Please let me know if you have questions or need anything else from me from the event. Thanks again for a great experience.
From Jonathan: Your workshop on last Friday gave me chills and made me excited to see participants using their voices. Thank you for that experience. I will get together with Melissa and Dr. Bailey to see how we can display these poems.
Looking forward to working with you in the future and thankful for everything that you do.
What did I learn?:
That it’s very cool to have a DJ present during, what I joked with Jonathan, was an amazing round of “speed poetry”.
Additionally — and does it count extra if I keep learning the same things? 🙂 — I learned again that participants always amaze me with what they create, that the process is powerful and fruitful, AND that I can’t wait to see what else can happen with the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project as I continue to dream of other variations and seek collaborations across the campus community.