There’s no question: The pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning has weighed heavily on students. Much has been written about how they’re struggling. But they’re also finding ways to cope with the pain they’re feeling and make sense of their world.
Poetry is one way young people are grappling with the events around them. Studying and writing poetry “can save lives,” one student told us. Here are five poems that students in Los Angeles and Miami wrote to make sense of these difficult times.
Last year, seven students in Precious Symonette’s poetry class at Miami Norland Senior High School in Miami collaborated on a piece that turns an unsparing eye on the struggles around them, while paying tribute to the life-saving power of self-expression. This poem, by Anthony Miley, Brenis Bostick, Darrelle Young, Jeremiah Johnson, Jonatan Francois, Kayla Williams, and Ni’ja Maxwell, was published recently in a national collection of young people’s writing, Dear Freedom Writer.
‘Poetry is Our Poker Face’
Excerpted from the book DEAR FREEDOM WRITER: Stories of Hardship and Hope from the Next Generation by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell. Copyright © 2022 by The Freedom Writers Foundation. Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Sydheera Brown, a senior at Miami Norland Senior High School in Miami, loves reading poetry. She also finds strength in the poems she’s written herself. Here she writes about the pain of racism, and the isolation and fear of the pandemic, and finds her way to an uneasy kind of hope.
My New Normal
This poem, by Jonatan Francois, a senior at Miami Norland Senior High School in Miami, celebrates the strengths of speaking two languages, each learned in a distinct segment of American culture. Jonatan performed this piece as part of a “piano slam,” which incorporates keyboard, spoken-word and dance.
Andrea Mejia Garcia, a 10th grader at Belmont High School in Los Angeles, turned a class assignment into a poem about the vibrancy of her family’s homeland, Guatemala. Andrea says that by connecting her to her heritage, the poem gave her “an inner peace” that helped her cope with the tragedies of the pandemic.
Guatemala: My Root
Brenis Bostick, an 11th grader at Miami Norland Senior High in Miami, performed this original poem in a “piano slam,” which blends keyboard, spoken-word and dance performance. His teacher, Precious Symonette, noted that by drawing on ideas from science, the poem showcases how poetry can cross academic disciplines.