Springing into Radical Recommitment, in honor of May 1st

20150501_153042Spring is always known as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, as winter thaws and flowers begin unfurl from the ground. This season of rejuvenation offers a ripe moment for collective recommitment to building a more just world. This abundance is always palpable on the first day of May, a long celebrated annual day of public protest. May 1st, also known as May Day, is International Worker’s Day. Originally chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair, an 1886 labor demonstration by Chicago workers, who were striking for an eight-hour workday and against the killing of workers by police when the peaceful turned violent with a dynamite bomb. This moment in labor history is honored each year as May 1st, where people march to continue a legacy of workers’ resistance. In more recent years, May Day has also been designated as a day to lift up immigrants’ struggles and movements towards ending deportations and creating justice for undocumented folks.

Each year in Seattle, there is a huge march by El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition. This inspirational day of public protest is not just a one-off day of action. It represents dedicated and transformative long haul organizing around multiple and intersecting issues, led by communities of color. As apart of the Seattle Youth Coalition, Youth Speaks Seattle seeks to be apart of the ongoing movement along with other youth-driven organizations. It is essential that young folks are in leadership in these liberatory struggles. Youth Speaks Seattle leaders marched with other young artists and activists. The diverse demands chanted by crowds represented the power of May Day to bring together multiple and intersecting issues of economic, climate and racial justice. In the crowd, a #BlackLivesMatter contingent carried a huge sign that read “Stop Fucking Killing Us”. They moved with dignity and power through the streets, followed by organizers from the Model Minority Mutiny Contingent, Youth and Student Coalition, Womxn of Color and Families Contingent and many more. Signs boldly connected climate justice, indigenous sovereignty, API solidarity with BlackLivesMatter, the #Not1More deportation movement, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, ending Israeli apartheid and more. The streets spoke to the power of frontline leadership and allies joining together to agitate, mourn, rejoice and vision onwards.

20150501_152150As a way to continue the education, transformation and mobilization of May Day, Youth Speaks hosted our second-ever Liberation Open Mic. This special edition of our monthly open mic is an opportunity to lift up the revolutionary potential of art to shift culture. Shifting culture can mean so many different things. Our open mics provide fertile ground to change hearts & minds, to gather energy in community and speak truth to power. The Liberation Open Mic offered youth and adult allies space to share and create with another. In the warm Spring air, we held the open mic outside where poets, rappers and musicians shared truth and showcased their work. We had a feature from three cultural workers and comrades at Anakbayan Seattle (a Youth and Student org working towards national democracy & liberation in the Philippines), Nikki Caintic, Richard Arcelo and Enrico Abadesco. As the full moon rose above Beacon Hill, we cyphered and laughed and sung together. The night ended with a joyful and spontaneous musical collaboration between Anakbayan and YSS artists. From the march to the mic, the radical legacy of May 1st continued with the voices of youth at the forefront. May we continue our collective work towards a more just world, with the budding Spring energy at our backs!



Resources for Recommitment 20150428_173920

Some organizations to learn about & support

El Comité: https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Comité/

Anakbayan Seattle: https://www.facebook.com/anakbayan.seattle

Women of Color for Systemic Change: https://www.facebook.com/WOCFSC

Got Green?: https://gotgreenseattle.org/


– Shelby

Teen Artist Program Coordinator


Read More

Free Writes and the Work of Magic

If I had to estimate, I’d say that I’ve yelled “Youth Speaks Seattle” in over a hundred middle and high school classrooms all over the greater Seattle area. In my year and a half of YSS outreach, I couldn’t approximate how many lunchroom spiels I’ve attempted or how many times I’ve performed my poems in LA classes or how many posters I’ve stapled to hallway bulletin boards. Throughout my journeys, I’m  honored to get to facilitate workshops with many rooms of brilliant young folks. To open up a creative and supportive writing space, I usually ground the room in a shared definition of a “free write”. I ask the room to shout out their ideas: write what you feel like!, whatever is in your brain!, write freely!

Building off the concepts already in the room, I usually add some key guidelines, like: Don’t judge yourself as you write. Let whatever is in your brain hit the page and don’t worry about it sounding good or poetic or cool or whatever! No pressure. This is just a place to experiment, play, get some ideas out in the air. I always share Youth Speaks Seattle’s only free write “rule” which is: keep your pen/pencil/writing utensil moving for the enPaperstripstire free write time. Even if you’re just writing, “I hate this” over and over, you never know where your pen might take you. I believe that free writes give us the potential to surprise ourselves with ourselves.

With a collective definition of free write to draw from, we then move into constructing some constraints, prompts or guidelines to get a free write sparked. Write whatever you feel like! is exciting but also the scariest freedom possible. A blank page with no starting point is intimidating to even the most prolific poet. While it’s important to push ourselves to write without self-judgment, a container can be helpful for stream of consciousness to take shape in. That in mind, I design curriculum with many variations on constraints. My challenges to students often include starting lines or required images or words.

As I develop curriculum, I always return to the idea that writing is the work of magic. To cultivate that magic, a workshop must serve as a powerful ritual. Ritual involves trusting the unknown and making space for it in our writing practice. In the classroom, this manifests as having each group of students generate unique constraints for our workshop. For example, I’ve asked students to write a specific shade or color in the corner of their paper. Once the room is filled with lime greens, ripe watermelon reds, indigos and eggshells, I ask each student to rip the color out and pass it to their neighbor. I encourage everyone to believe that this is the color that they are meant to write with today. The randomness of receiving a color is a form of magic, all part of our shared ritual. And once students share, it feels that magic led them to create the exact free write they were meant to, bursting with color and inspiration.

Similarly, I’ve asked students to write 5 words on slips of paper that describe their identity, before we throw them all into the center of the room and draw back out 5 words, randomized in a flurry of paper. These identity words go on to spark complex and courageous free writes. In another workshop, I challenge students to write a letter to a person or thing in their life. To determine who or what we need to write to most in this particular moment, we often do a ritual spinning of our notebook and random pointing on a brainstormed list of important items or people.

Through these acts of divination, I’ve witnessed youth read authentic, fiery and heartbreaking poems. I’m continually in awe of how free writes give way to such raw vulnerability. They make a place for all of us to trust the magic inside of us and dive head first into the unknown. Constraints, like ritual, give us a shape to land in. Once we go there, the piece may even seem to write itself. When I witness the power of young poets speaking truth, it’s a collective discovery of what they needed to say all along.


– Shelby

Teen Artist Program Co-Coordinator


Read More