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Showing posts from 2007

Dream Keepers Dreaming

On Monday night, I brought a fun exercise for the Dream Keepers. I gave them a version of the Best Possible Self exercise found in several psychology studies (Laura King, Sonja Lyubomirsky, et. al.): "Imagine yourself a year from now. You have worked hard. Everything has gone as well as possible. Tell me what your life looks like. What have you accomplished? What do you do with your days? What is new in your life?" This was not a new exercise to the group. We had done a variation of this more than a year ago.

The Dream Keepers looked like I'd asked them to eat brussels sprouts. Or write a novel in 30 days. Actually, when I shared with them my wild and crazy dream that we'd write a book together, they embraced it.
"No problem!" one shouted.
"Even if it's long? Like 200 pages?" I asked.
They shrugged, undaunted by the idea.

BUT THIS! Imagine their best possible future selves? Too hard, they whined.

I tried again. I invited the Dream Keepers to creat…

Word Play

A few weeks ago, I read Sanford Lyne's book, Writing Poetry from the Inside Out. He encourages word play--taking groups of four words and playing with them until you have a poem. I gave the Dream Keepers lists of words, they chose their word groups, and we went to work. Here is what they came up with:

by Maya Montgomery

In my life, I see darkness
and sunlight. When I see
sunlight I see beauty,
bees, and birds. When I
see darkness I see drunkenness,
Death, and loneliness.

Listen Up
by Elisha Branch

Even though we are all God's child
Young boys and girls are going wild.
No one is a star of fame
And we are all filled with shame.
Wise Buddha try to fill heads with knowledge
and make them imagine going to college.
Teaching the boys to be together, to grieve,
all they want to say is that their favorite player is thirty-three.
Trying to teach girls how to get up quick,
all they can say is that they'll survive on WIC.
Learn to stand up when you fall
and stop when your back is agains…

Holding Truth

The Dream Keepers have been reading short stories from the book Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon G. Flake. The books came to us as a gift from Venice Williams, the executive director of Seedfolks Youth Ministry. (THANK YOU!)

Last night, the girls chose titles from the book as a starting point for their writing. Story titles such as, "So I Ain't No Good Girl" and "The Ugly One" allowed the girls to create some edgy rants (my term to describe a spoken-word poem). With the permission of the girls, I've published three of the poems below. I wish you could have heard these poems spoken aloud. They rocked.

Gentle readers, be warned. None of these poems are pretty or nice. I think the girls meant to shock. I like that. As their writing teacher, I want them to be honest. I want their words to reflect what THEY experience, think, and envision. I do not want to censor or shape their ideas—spoken or written—so that their work will be more palatable. When writers have th…

Introducing the Newest Dream Keepers

Greetings Dream Keeper fans!

We have been busy writing these past months. The Dream Keepers spent a month working on their essays for a local Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay contest. I'll post those essays in January, once the judging is complete. We've also added three new dreamers. Here are the I AM poems of two of our new members.

I AM by Rachel Coney
I am a beautiful child of God
I have a nice smile.
I am short.
I am pretty.
I am goofy.
I am funny.
I am happy.
I am Rachel Coney.

I AM by Maya Montgomery
I am kind.
I am sweet
I am smart.
I am friendly.
I am tall.
I am skinny.
I am light brown.
I am athletic.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am an auntie.
I am a neice.
I am Maya Noel Montgomery.

Our third new member, Rebecca Coney, has not had time to write her I AM poem. She did participate in an exciting but difficult writing exercise last week. I have been reading the book, Writing Poetry from the inside out by Sanford Lyne. He encourages writers to use clusters of words as a starting point for poe…

Hope and the Hood

Two weeks ago, I shared with the Dream Keepers a poem written by a friend of mine called, "To be Old, Gifted, and White." The writer spoke about his experiences living and protesting in Milwaukee. From this poem, the Dream Keepers chose to write on the theme, "Our Hood." This week the Dream Keepers chose their theme from a line from Nikki Giovanni's poem HOWL: "Call down the stars to write the truth." The Dream Keepers live in one of the worst neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Their writing speaks this truth. Reader be warned: this truth is gritty, real, and frightening.

My Hood
by Brittene Harden
My hood, my block—you see a lot of things.
You can't even go outside without worrying about getting raped or shot at, getting told, "you got a body," or "I can't wait to do this to you." You can't help but think everything that goes wrong is in your hood. You feel sorry for the crack addicts on the street when you really should feel s…

To Be Young, Gifted and Black

Last night the Dream Keepers and I met for the second time this fall. As usual, our time together begins slowly. We would rather talk and eat than write. Giggles abound. I'm tempted to be more teacher than facilitator. Both are necessary--but I sense that the young women work better for the facilitator.

Last night we read together the poem, HOWL by Nikki Giovanni from her new book of poems, Acolyte. The poem is dedicated to singer Nina Simone, who write a song called To Be Young, Gifted and Black inspired by a play of the same name written by Lorraine Hansberry. After reading the poem, the two young women decided to write on this theme. Here is their work. As usual, it is moving to me and I hope for you.

Young, Gifted, and Black
by Natalie Branch

I am young, smart, and African American. I know that may seem like a little, but it's saying a lot more than you know.

To people like my sister, being young means not having your own voice and always having to prove yourself. To me, being…

Introducing the Dream Keepers

We met Thursday night with the Seedfolks Summer Reading Circle. We're reading amazing books. Last week it was Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. This week we started Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan. After we read, the Seedfolks director, Venice Williams, invited the young people to do some writing exercises. I will share the first one here, as a way of introducing these fine young women. Watch for more writing in the coming weeks!

I am
full-figured shape
round face
chocolate colored
dark ebony eyes
I am
I am
college bound
I am
I am
African American and Indian
and shy
I am
and intelligent
I am
a god mother
an eleventh grader’
a peacemaker
and a Christian
I am
I am
I am
I am
I am
I am
ball headed
I am a gi…

Being Together

We met again last Thursday and attended the Seedfolks reading circle. Afterwards, I brought the teens to my house for ice cream and writing. Both times we've tried to write. But no one (including me) showed any interest in putting pen to paper.

The first week we had too much to talk about. One of the teens, a young man, kept saying, "Pastor Rochelle, your house is so peaceful. I've never been in a house like this. It's just so peaceful." We ended up talking about what peace looks and feels like to him—and the writing got pushed aside. Last week, we cleared away the empty dishes and took out the journals. After just minutes, one of the teens said, "It's too quiet here. I can't think." I laughed. Two teens noticing that my house was quiet—something I rarely appreciate—with different ideas about what that meant. But for both teens, the house and the ice cream and the company made it dificult to write!

So right now we are a "not writing" w…

Pursuing Peace

I structure the Dream Keeper's writing time around themes. In January, the young people read many of Langston Hughes's poems about dreams. Then, they wrote about their own dreams for the future. They read these poems for the church's celebration of Black History Month.

In the spring we wrote about ending violence in our lives and in our communities. Natalie created this moving devotion during one of our writing afternoons. I think it is a powerful story about how we can choose to change the way we act and react, even in the midst of violence. It also reminds me of how God is at work for good in our lives.

A New Life
by Natalie Branch

Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:19

I don’t pursue violence, but it wasn’t always like that. When I was younger, if I didn’t like the way someone looked at me, I would gather my clique so we could fight. If your outfit looked better than mine, I would fight you. I spent the early years of my life trying t…

Role Models

“You can't do a fine thing without having seen fine examples.” - William Morris Hunt

I've been thinking about the need for the Dream Keepers and other young people to have role models. When we meet someone who has done what we want to do, we see that our dreams are possible. When that person has overcome obstacles to reach a dream, we are encouraged to press on. It's especially important for teens who live in challenging situations to see people who have experienced difficulty and still succeeded. It empowers them to believe in themselves and their own ability to move forward.

Last night I took three of the Dream Keepers to the first Summer Reading Circle meeting. This week's book was, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. (Talk about a role model!) Afterwards, we had ice cream and cookies at my house. I showed them the Web site and the blog. One of the young woman said, "Pastor Rochelle, we're going to be famous!"

I'd love nothing more. Woul…


Last Monday, I took the Dream Keepers and my five-year-old daughter to a picnic. On the way, we started talking about our summer writing plans. I introduced the idea of joining the Seedfolks Summer Reading Circles and then writing afterwards. (Seedfolks is a ministry located here in Milwaukee.) The girls loved that idea. But, they wondered--what could they read now, before school got out? One of them suggested The Diary of Anne Frank. We had read about the diary when we read Freedom Writers.

On the way home from the picnic, we stopped at the bookstore and I picked up a copy of Anne's diary and also a copy of Zlata's diary. I wish you could have seen the look on the girls' faces when they received their books! Today I go pick up the other copies. I think they will be pleased. I can't wait to read the books again as well! Hopefully our next post will be from them--their reflections on the writing!

Introducing Dream Keepers

In 2004, I began attending a church in the heart of my city. During my first visit, I had a vision: I would teach writing to the young people in this place. I dismissed the thought. I’m too busy. It’s too hard. They wouldn’t be interested. But the visions persisted. Each time I sat in the pew, the dream would come. Finally, I accepted this vision as a calling. I shared the dream with others, but I didn’t believe it would come true. Then a friend asked, “What can you do right now to make this happen?”

In the fall of 2006, I embarked on a writing journey with four young women from the church. We have named ourselves “Dream Keepers,” after a poem by Langston Hughes. Hughes believed that writers were the dream keepers of the community. We are! In addition, recent studies suggest that people who write down their deepest thoughts, feelings, and dreams are healthier, happier, and have better success achieving their goals.

Every Saturday I meet with four or five young women. We talk and write. …