Youth voice is essential to creative youth development. We’re asking youth leaders to speak to the power of culture as active agents in their own growth:
Meet Andrine Pierresaint, a longtime Books of Hope youth leader and a 15-year-old force to be reckoned with.
In her mid-teens, Andrine is not only an award-winning poet and performer, but also a published author who facilitates a weekly series of creative writing workshops for a group of pre-teens at the Mystic Learning Center in Somerville, MA.
For Andrine, poetry has been an outlet for processing challenging emotions in a constructive way as well as a bridge to new worlds, connecting her to a community of mentors and young people from all walks of life.
“I have other people that I know that, like, if I want to talk about something I can talk to them about it, but the first person I’m going to think about to talk about poetry and what happened in an event and how I’m feeling about a poem, is Erich. He brought me to Louder Than A Bomb, and it was like a whole new world,” Andrine reflects.
Erich Haygun is the Program Director at Books of Hope (BOH), created in 1990 by Anika Nailah as a creative outlet for young people in and around the Mystic Learning Center. Specializing in poetry, BOH provides opportunities for young people to develop and refine their creative writing skills through peer mentorship.
Locally, BOH features their youth leaders at Boston Public Library’s Teen Central in Back Bay from 3-5pm the last Friday of every month. Additionally, BOH hosts “BEEN OUT HERE,” an all-ages open-mic and workshop every second Wednesday from 6-9pm at The Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville, in collaboration with The Center for Teen Empowerment. BOH also prepares a team of young people to compete in the annual statewide Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Slam. In her time at Books of Hope, Andrine has participated in the competition multiple times.
“Isn’t poetry the fuel that pulls you out of bed? Something you do by yourself, for yourself, for your team, for your family, with your dreams, despite money, despite anxiety? Isn’t poetry something you do with your heaviest heart, with your last breath, with your whole life?”
Profoundly supportive of young people, BOH also offers paid fellowships to participants who demonstrate a commitment to their craft and are dedicated to sharpening their skills. Through these fellowships, young people have access to writing workshops, publication and performance opportunities, professional development as well as peer-mentoring training. Young people learn skills to explore their creative paths while also gaining technical assistance and financial rewards for their hard work.
Andrine’s first book entitled Even Pears Speak to Me features a collection of poems that address race issues, fat-phobia, mental abuse, neglect and its lasting effects. Her poetry also explores familial relationships and the power of learning to love yourself.
More on Andrine’s journey:
Video by Alexandra Wimley and Breana Stephen.
Photos by Alexandra Wimley.
Marquis Victor, President of Elevated Thought, is a passionate and eloquent advocate for the arts and their central place in our collective struggle for social justice. He shared this poem with youth and their legislators at a recent State House ceremony celebrating the Mass Cultural Council’s Amplify Program, which invests directly in the creative work of young people across the Commonwealth.
A YOUTH DEDICATION
Kings and Queens
nestled in poetic prose
Rose from obscurity
to fight for your city
The beauty that is shared
can be compared to an opening exhibit
paintings depicting heaven
Holy Gates pushed open
emanating a light
that seeps through celestial boundaries
This light pours from your eyes
like sunlight spilled from a glass
This light is hope
The light of a subversive sequester
until it’s ready to bound forth full speed
tearing through oppression
like tanks carrying culture revitalization
like jets dropping missiles
upon barricades masquerading as a free nation
Kings and Queens
Questioning the questioner
Questioning the system structure
till you puncture a hole
in the bloated belly of the beast
the gold hordes stuffed inside
will hit the streets and countryside
Mama y papa struggle less and less
because your hearts, minds, souls
will conquer the mountain flatten it out
maybe a metaphor
for the redistribution of wealth
Kings and Queens
You make wooden gods crack when you speak
The true God speaks through you
as you gather the voices of the people
The people who are you
You are they
All you needed was to see the way or maybe
just a faint street sign in the distance
Kings and Queens
You are change
You’ve exchanged futility
for brushes that color utopia
That heal the cracks in buildings
That remove that 15 year old girl
from a crack building
That spray paint over vandalism
with the power of Frost and Emerson
if they were imbued with brown hues
Poems of deep introspection
Words of a Revolution
like 24 cities cupped in twelve pairs of hands
with Young Lord passion
with Black Panther passion
like knowledge was a canvas
and you power washed it in daydreams
Kings and Queens
please continue to sing the song of Freedom
– Marquis Victor / Elevated Thought
Name: Marquis Victor
Organization: Elevated Thought
Title: President / Executive Director
Artistic Genres: Film, Poetry
Years in the Field: 7.5
What do you do at Elevated Thought?
I lead Elevated Thought’s vision, objectives, goals, and mission and facilitate many of our programs and workshops. Additionally, I’ve developed various art and social justice based curricula including our youth empowerment programs Creative. Community. Change. (C3) and Wall Speak.
Why do you do what you do?
Every year that passes affirms my passion for and desire to see art infused, social action education introduced in the city of Lawrence and cities like it. Studying the history of colonization, slavery, and immigration, I know generations upon generations of the poor and marginalized have suffered from a lack of education and opportunities to expand their creativity and imagination. This passion has given me the confidence to do my small part in providing tangible hope within the current educational climate and within the communities we serve.
What comes easiest to you in this work?
Waking up everyday and never questioning what I do and its purpose.
What challenges you in this work?
For many high school youth who have never been asked to embrace and utilize their imagination, the process of creative discovery can be novel and, at times, utterly confounding. The majority of them have been creatively stunted in their schools and environment. Disillusioned by content that is far removed from their reality, their personal meaning is often defined largely by despair, escapism, self-aggrandizement, or base means of survival that develop in poverty-stricken areas. Opportunities afforded for the select few further marginalize the majority and deepen the dehumanization process. The dehumanization process begins early on and, for many of the youth we serve, takes place when their creative interests and imagination is demeaned and begins to deteriorate. Breaking down the barriers to creativity and reemphasizing their standing as creatively capable beings can be a long and arduous process.
What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
We believe, as do other organizations and individuals spearheading this recent insurgency of arts in the city of Lawrence, creativity and imagination are keys to progress and empowering the individual and larger community.
How do you blow off steam?
Basketball, watching films with my wife, reveling in family and fellowships.
What do you create in your free time?
Poetry, experimental films, and ways to make my 7-month-old laugh.
Whose work in the CYD field do you admire and why?
My mentor and good friend Dr. Lou Bernieri, Director of Andover Bread Loaf (ABL). ABL uses literacy to enable participants to release the power of their voice and their capacity for school and civic leadership. Elevated Thought has been greatly influenced by ABL, now working in Lawrence for almost 30 years.
What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Movie soundtracks, chillwave, ambient, and synth beats.
What are you currently reading?
The Magic of JuJu by Kalamu ya Salaam.
The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Inside the Outside of Self
For those of us who have committed our lives to creative youth development work, we know that in practice, it is never simple or neat. Each individual’s story offers insight into a part of their journey – and ours. Each individual’s story emphasizes different aspects of ‘the work’. Here are three such stories:
Luis started at the Community Art Center when he was five. He is hard of hearing and had difficulty reading and writing at school. He was a naturally exuberant child who was often at odds with his very traditional Haitian grandmother. When Luis came to the Art Center, he discovered a love of theater and dance and a group of adults and kids who celebrate who he is. In the spring of 2012, Luis was voted onto our Youth Advisory Board and worked with his peers to complete a 100 foot mural along Massachusetts Avenue. Because of his flair for expressive speaking he was selected to address the audience about the mural making experience. One of his classroom teachers happened to walk by when Luis was reading the speech he wrote himself. She emailed the school principal the next day saying she had no idea what Luis was capable of. When I was forwarded a copy of that email I was proud of Luis, but that idea, that she “didn’t know what Luis was capable of” felt like a small tragedy. At the Community Art Center, Luis found a way to take in information and a way to express himself. He learned how he learns. Luis is now 14 and in his second year in our Teen Media Program. He still struggles in school, struggles to live up to his grandmother’s expectations, but in our program, he continues to succeed and has just started to direct his first film.
Tanisha’s mother died suddenly when she was just seven years old. She started at the Community Art Center a few months later. During program, Tanisha kept to herself. When she was nine, she was given a journal in class at the Art Center and instead of leaving hers behind in the classroom like the other girls, she carried it around with her and wrote often. Although her father and our staff were convinced she was grieving deeply, she never spoke about her mother – out loud or in her journal, which she eventually started sharing with one of our teachers. The year Tanisha turned 12, she wrote her first poem about her mother in one of our programs, which she turned into a song. When Tanisha took the stage to sing her song at our end of year celebration, she got through the first line and began to cry. Her father walked her off the stage but the audience kept cheering and eventually she walked back out and bowed. We don’t see Tanisha around the Art Center very often these days. She’s 15 now and her first years as a teen were full of difficulty. She comes by to visit every few weeks but isn’t officially signed up for a program. I see her all the time, though, around the neighborhood, walking alone or sitting on a bench, always carrying or writing in her journal.
When Raymond started our teen program, he was one of those kids who sat in the corner and watched the world go by. He was so quiet and seemingly disengaged, that we sometimes wondered why he kept coming. He seemed to like film making, but only really focused on the process when he was assigned the meticulous task of editing. During his second year with us, he was invited by staff to join our leadership group, DIYDS!! Crew – the group that curates and plans our Do It Your Damn Self!! National Youth Film Festival (DIYDS!!). It was in the quiet of the curation room that Raymond started talking. He had opinions about film. It turned out he spent much of his time outside of the Art Center watching movies. Raymond served on our Crew for the next two years and his senior year was asked to emcee the premiere screening of the film festival. Raymond got into college nearby but stayed in touch, coming back to help lead the DIYDS!! curation process. Raymond is 23 now, lives at home with his mom, and works hard to support his daughter, who just turned 2. I just got a call from him to be a reference for an entry level job at a small local museum. I gushed about him, of course, and am keeping my fingers crossed.
“I guess I keep coming back to the Art Center because it’s like coming home again. You know, like how a kid lets go of his mother’s hand but always comes back to hold it again when they need to.” When Ashley, who just aged up into our teen program made this statement recently, I thought now THAT is the real definition of creative youth development.
They keep coming back to it, and we keep coming back to it because somewhere in the process, we will find that mural event, that journal, that film critique that will make enough of a difference – help young people get their needs met and through that process find meaning for themselves, and give meaning to all of us.
Eryn Johnson is the Executive Director of Community Art Center whose mission is to cultivate an engaged community of youth whose powerful artistic voices transform their lives, their neighborhoods and their worlds. For over 80 years and for all but 10 weekdays of the year, the Art Center provides a second home to over 100 youth in Cambridge, MA.