Baton Rouge's WordPlay Teen Writing Project traffics in safe spaces and scorching syntax. For a year and a half WordPlay staff have worked hard to empower young people in Baton Rouge by supplying them with the knowledge and resources they need to create art, community, and social change through literacy. The frenzy of activity and work constantly happening in the WordPlay office space at the Big Buddy Program is tiring just to watch. We are all thankful – young people and adults – once a month, to find some release, some pat on the back, some right word on the mic, some snatch of applause, some new voice to carry us forward.
When the feature poet took the stage at the January Freshhhh Heat open mic, she came with a certain calm. Latasha Weatherspoon, member of the Baton Rouge Poetry Alliance, took the stage with a slow gate and handed out two hot poems. Before leaving the stage she treated the audience to one last piece, a collaborative freestyle. She asked the young people to lift an object into the air so that she could work each object into her poem. The poem became a story of moving, carrying on, not stopping or letting up, with each new object a twist in the road, a talisman, a forebear of the journey. Each bag and each cap, each comb and each pen, each potato chip and each soda can, mine! and mine too! and don't forget that one sitting over there! every head and every shoulder, every young voice in the room willing to raise their hand, considered and engaged, accounted for and counted. The beauty of the poem rested in the poet's ability to work with the audience rather than speaking at the audience alone. By the end of the sometimes tangential narrative, the mood of the room was, well, serene.
A week after the open mic, WordPlay introduced Tasha to WordCrew, Baton Rouge's teen poetry council, and the staff of WordPlay welcomed Ms. Weatherspoon into their office, their classrooms, and their programs. Tasha, already a Project Rise mentor, was hired by WordPlay to teach workshops and tutor teens after school.
Since her first day with WordPlay, students have been lining up to work with Ms. Weatherspoon, and I'm happy to say I have the chance to do so too. Sitting in the library at Glen Oaks High School, I watch Tasha conduct a handful of students – an orchestra of youthful angst – like a master. She tells one student to "hush up and concentrate" on her work. But lurking behind the strong directive is a smile and a pile of compassion. She leans back in her chair and begins softly to herself, almost laughing, "God grant me the serenity…" Before I can wonder about the meaning, the usefulness of this Christian prayer, and its looped ending, the phrase has already stuck. I look around and see young people studying and working together and I figure something is going right having Ms. Weatherspoon on board as more than a performer.
You see, I have had the pleasure of hearing Latasha Weatherspoon perform many times before her Freshhhh Heat debut. But now I am glad to see her in a new light, a new role, model of serenity.
Anna Hirsch, WordPlay Project Assistant, is a fiction writer, book artist, and teacher. She is currently a member of the Louisiana Delta Service Corps, serving at WordPlay, and a recent graduate of Louisiana State University (MFA). At WordPlay she oversees WordSkills tutoring and academic advising and teen publications. She is also the website czar. Find out more about Anna Hirsch:
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