…a story on black boy joy and how poetry helped him find it by Stacey James McAdoo…
Jacob, who started his senior year of high school as a third semester junior, walked into my classroom during the fall of 2017 full of charisma with a massive smile that stretched from ear to ear and asked (with a heavy emphasis on the last word), “How do I become one of the Writeous?” Jacob had been a student at my school since his freshmen year. I knew that he knew from the intercom announcements that the club was open to anyone. So, when I told him that all he had to do was show up when I put out the all calls, he probed a little deeper. “No, Ms. Mc, I’m not talking ’bout how can I be a member of the school’s poetry club, I’m talkin’ bout how can I be one of YOUR poets… you know the ones who travel with you to perform in the community and who get paid?” I repeated my original answer and elaborated just a tad – “All you gotta do is show up when you hear the all calls…and put in the work.”
From that day forward, Jacob, a student who I had never been assigned to teach in any of my classes…. who before that day was just one of the nearly 2500 faces in the school…has consistently shown up and put in the work. He is hungry to share his words and grow as an artist. It’s not unusual for him to spend his lunch breaks writing or for him to burst in the door in the middle of class eager to share a new poem that he’s penned.
Today Jacob is one of the main faces associated with the Writeous Poets. Every time a poet is needed, he’s always the first to volunteer. If you were to ask Jacob what it means to be a Writeous Poet, his exact words to you would be “The poetry club didn’t just change my life, it changed it for my whole family – my momma and my future kids. Before being part of the Writeous, I didn’t think I had a future of any sort.” Being around young people who were headed down a different path helped him see that he needed to change his. It also enabled him to understand that while he may not be good at some things, he is a master of quick wit, metaphors and punch lines.
Four months past the due date, Jacob completed and proudly turned in his diploma card. He is currently making plans to attend a liberal arts college in a nearby state. Unsure of what the future holds, he knows for certain that live performances, crowd feedback & participation, and being revered as the GOAT (greatest of all time) are strong motivators for him.
People fight the system in lots of different ways. Regarding my weapon of choice as it relates to how I attempt to slay the opportunity gap, I’m often asked: “Why poetry?” And while it is about poetry, at the end of the day, its more about the process than it is the product. It’s about the community it constructs. The value and visibility the poets find. The change in their posture. The transformation that transpires. The freedom and structure as well as the power and vulnerability that it offers to those who previously had too much or too little of one or the other. The faith that they develop in themselves (and in each other). And ultimately, it’s about the assessment and reflection of the world around them…and the contribution that they render to society as a reminder that they were here.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*
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