Wednesday, June 10, 2015

REAL Conference REAL Writers

 R.E.A.L. Conference NWA Teen Summit
USWG Writers’ Workshop
by Tony E. Boyd

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when asked to cover the Umoja Soul Writers’ Group (USWG) Writers’ Workshop at the R.E.A.L. Conference NWA Teen Summit. So I had no pre-conceived notions when I arrived that day (at 9:30 am on a Saturday morning May 30).
Leora Jackson
Since I was a little early, I noticed there weren’t a lot of people there yet and figured they would file in later. Already there were Umoja Soul representatives and four teens. As the time for the event to start approached, I noticed only a few more people trickled in, but none were teenagers. Remaining undaunted, the organizers soldiered on with their plan.

They had created this event for an important purpose, inspiring teens to explore their creativity through writing and to give them a safe, non-judgmental place to explore their self-expression.
Lakeesha Shaw
Leora Jackson, Coordinator of the Umoja Soul Writers Group, took the floor first to do the opening.

“People write all the time whether they know it or not,” she said. “And we all have a story to tell, but we just need the time to write about it.”

Examples started running through my mind. People will tell you that they can’t write, maybe even add “creatively”. But in today’s world, we write almost constantly (depending on your generation). Social media has created a tide of new writers who don’t even know they are writers.
"Bowtie" Todd Jenkins encouraging youth to be engaged
She also discussed activism in the community and how writing can be used to help affect change. This led into her introduction of LaKeesha Thomas Shaw who would introduce the workshop’s speaker, “Bowtie” Todd Jenkins.

Mr. Jenkins, a distinguished and accomplished orator, discussed having a plan for your life with the teen attendees. He related his personal tale of struggle and figuring things out for himself through trial and error and strong, loving parenting.
"Bowtie" Todd Jenkins and REAL Writing Mentees

“Teenagers don’t have complete control over what they can and cannot do,” Jenkins said.  “There would be times when there would be conflicts between what they want to do and what they are allowed to do.”

 He explained to them that they could choose to either embrace or rebel. If they chose to rebel, lying and doing what they weren’t suppose to, this would represent that choice, a negative choice. If they choose to embrace positivity and take responsibility for their own actions, then expressing themselves through writing could help them gain control over what they think they didn't have control over.
Jenkins encouraged the youth to, “be engaged, be there, be open, and tie things together in order to get the most out of the workshop.”

Next up was rapper/activist, mrsShiny. She discussed the therapeutic nature of writing, a way to get things out that are bottled up inside. She followed that up with an inspirational rap about "not letting the haters slow them down, or the naysayers steal their crown."

mrsShiny rapping to the kids to keep moving Forward

It had a nice beat and I could dance to it. J I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think all the other workshop attendees did also. During her performance, the teens seemed attentive and engaged.

At this point, the teenagers were paired with mentors from USWG and asked to perform a writing exercise. The assignment was to write about a life experience that became an inspiration to do better in life. 
Mentors & Mentees writing in their journal
Young mentee writing a story

Once the time limit passed the workshop participants were encouraged to come forward and share what they had written. Some stories were heart tugging, some contemplative and others inspiring.

LIFE writing her story
Stacey “LIFE” Harper came up next and had a roundtable discussion with the teens about their self-esteem, moving forward through adversity, taking control of their lives, and defining themselves. She introduced them to the concept of them being “rainbow children” and encouraged them to look it up, because they would be inspired to know that they are special and unique in their own gifted way. 
She spoke to them in poetic rhythm, with dramatic emphasis on the most important parts. They seemed to soak it in.
I think it will take time for all of it to register but they do have the information to start with.

My overall analysis of the workshop comes down to one word, SUCCESS! 
I truly believe the workshop was a positive experience for all who attended, mentor and mentee alike. I think anytime you can be a positive force in a young person’s life, it’s worth the effort.

Kudos to Leora "F. L. Jones" Jackson, “Bowtie” Todd Jenkins, mrsShiny, LaKeesha Thomas Shaw, Stacey “LIFE” Harper, John Bell, Tonya "mrsShiny" McCoy, Patricia Rodriguez, Carma Nicholson, & Carla Thompson and all others who worked to make this happen.

I’m sure the youth were inspired and motivated to Move Forward and to Be Engaged! 

Photos and story by Tony E. Boyd