Friday, March 04, 2011

Finding A Voice

Kathy Evans writes about her experience with WritersCorps, a San Francisco-based initiative that places professional writers in community settings to teach writing to youth:

"WritersCorps got me out of the suburbs. I was in the inaugural WritersCorp, the San Francisco 1994-95 group, and Clinton had just been elected president. He had pledged money and energy to revive AmeriCorps, and WritersCorps was one of its tributaries. There were about twenty of us from all over the United States, diverse in age, background and skin color. I crossed the bridge four times a week to teach in the inner city, a world apart from the one I had come from, the world of Volvos, little league baseball and pressure for high SAT scores. My first assignment was in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, where I worked in a center for community resources and development, teaching immigrant children poetry, which was a way of also helping them to learn first-time computer skills. I loved those kids, the ones who lived in small apartments, sometimes ten to a family - or no family at all - some with very limited English, others, wise beyond their years because of what they had witnessed on the streets. One student, Alan Nyguen, had no concept of what poetry was or meant. Every time I mentioned "poetry," he thought I was talking about a "Poet-Tree." One day he typed this poem:


Today I went to the park.
I saw a tree.
I like the tree.
It's a different tree.
It spells words.
One day it grew my name.
Birds come on it.
I always come to that tree.

I just loved that little poem. It was selected not only for the first WritersCorps anthology, Flavors of the City, but also was made into a giant poster and placed all over San Francisco inside the fancy new kiosks that decked the city streets. Alan was about seven years old -I'm sure Alan was not his Vietnamese name - and had moved to San Francisco from outside of Saigon. He was so proud of the poem that he carried it around in a small window in his wallet next to the family pictures.

A few months after the WritersCorps assignment had ended, while I was working at a routine office job down on Folsom Street for a consultant firm, Alan's mother tracked me down and asked through an interpreter over the phone if she could come to the office. She showed up at the office at noon - Alan a step behind her - with dishes and dishes of home-cooked Vietnamese food. She wanted to say thank you from her heart, her hands and her kitchen for the poem. I told her that Alan wrote the poem, that there was no need to thank me. Nevertheless, her generosity was not forgotten."


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