Photo courtesy of East Lake UMC and Real Life Poets
Real Life Poets
Students participate in the Real Life Poets workshop.
“Poetry and spoken word aren’t for everybody, but the ones that gravitate toward it find it liberating to be able to express themselves in a creative manner,” said John Paul Taylor of the Birmingham nonprofit arts group Real Life Poets.
And some of those people are the youth who’ve taken part in the after-school workshops RLP has conducted at East Lake United Methodist Church since fall 2015.
The workshops — attended mostly by elementary and middle-school students, as well as some high-school kids — are once a week during the school year.
RLP works with children and youth to encourage creative writing, public speaking and individual expression, said East Lake UMC associate pastor Cheryl Hinnen, who added that about 10 to 15 students have taken part in the workshops each semester.
RLP has done incredible work, Hinnen said.
“They both inspire and challenge youth who would otherwise not have a voice,” she said. “Because they allow creative expression; they create spaces for youth to be themselves and tell their stories.”
“A great benefit from poetry is it helps increase emotional intelligence,” Taylor said.
Most of the East Lake workshops are led by RLP co-founder Leroy Hicks, according to Taylor.
RLP also has created other outlets for young poets, including Real Global Poets, a poetry exchange between young people in Birmingham and Kenya.
In spring 2016, RLP published a collection of poems from the exchange, “Our Voice is Our Power, Vol. 1.” Fifty-six kids from Birmingham, including 14 from East Lake, had work in the collection. RLP completed a second exchange in fall 2016; this time exclusively for kids in Kenya and East Lake, with plans to publish another book.
In summer 2016, RLP hosted a pilot six-week arts academy at the church, which drew 24 participants for sessions in spoken word, culinary arts and cosmetology. RLP and the church are planning to hold the arts academy again this summer, with details to be announced, according to Taylor and Hinnen.
In addition, the group is turning two rooms on the second floor of the church into a community arts hub, according to Taylor.
The rooms will provide a space for the group’s workshops and will be “a safe space for youth and community to express freely and openly,” Taylor said.
To learn more about RLP, go to reallifepoets.org. To read poems by youth from East Lake and elsewhere, go to globalpoets.org. To learn more about attending the workshops, call the church at 836-3201.