Local Youth Poetry Presents At Violence Prevention Symposium At UConn

Last month, the local youth poetry group, Paper Voices, had the opportunity to present at UConn's second annual Violence Prevention in Schools Symposium: Intervening and Preventing Violence.

The event was held at the UConn Hartford campus. The group is based in Manchester.

The group's coach, Illing Middle School teacher Ryan Parker, was originally asked to present regarding the Open Mic Movement in Education and the power of poetics as a healing mechanism. Parker thought it would be best to have the group of youth leaders present and represent youth and the power of poetry.

"I am passing the baton on to these students and empowering them to not only have a voice, but to give a voice to the necessary changes that need to be made to include culturally relevant empowering spaces within the natural course of the school day," Parker said.

Paper Voices was the only youth group that presented. The students focused on how poetry provides an outlet for victims of violence, how it can serve as alternative to those who commit violence, and how open mic sharing in the community provides a safe space for expression.

The group members worked together and created the presentation on their own, with only guidance from Parker.

"How can you have a whole presentation with a keynote, all these statistics about youth, but you don't have any youth to prove if they're right? It got me upset," Paper Voices member Jazlyn Rivas-Figueroa, grade 8, said.

Topics discussed during their presentation were abusive relationships, racism, physical abuse, self-inflicted violence, and troubled home lives.

"It doesn't matter what type of violence you come from, [open mic] will still heal you," Rivas-Figueroa said. "Even if you're not writing poetry or rapping, just the environment and space. You can chill out with people who won't judge you, even if you don't know them."

Poetry and open mic are a part of the school day for the students. Paper Voices also runs a community open mic every last Friday of the month, at the East Side Community Center.

Paper Voices member Paige Tyler, grade 12, said open mic helped him escape an abusive relationship and to talk to his mother about the situation.

"Open mic made it very clear that there were people who weren't going to victim shame me, there were people who supported my experience," Tyler said. "Because that was a part of the school system and not just and individual thing in the community, it made me feel safer."

Paper Voices member Alexandria Ford, grade 11, said she suffered from severe depression in the past, but open mic helped her through it.

"Writing made me sit down and really confront my emotions and confront my real issues and figure things out," Ford said.

Member Zach Faccin, grade 11, said that open mic gave him a sense of family, something he needed during low points in his life.

"The coolest part about open mic is that other people in the community understand what you're talking about," Faccin said. "So maybe if you write a piece about something they've experienced, maybe you can help them just through your words - or maybe they can help you."

"The bigger message is that there needs to be a change in the educational system," Parker said. "We have to create these spaces for youth in education."

Paper Voices members said they hope their presentation inspires other school districts to incorporate open mic in their school culture.

"Often, you hear people speak of youth saying they'll be a great leader one day when they grow up," Parker said. "No, my mentality is that they're leaders now."

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