Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Writing to Protest

Last Monday we listened to protest music and wrote our own versions of protest poems. Two of the teens finished poems to share with you. Both poets write from another point of view. The first poet takes on the challenge of revealing one's true self. The second poet takes on the traditional values for women. After you read these poems, think about this: what do you want to protest? Write it down.

Take A Look
by Aliza Mendoza, age 16

Who am I?
When you look at me what do you see?
Shy and quiet girl.
Would you believe me when I say
It's just a show.
Should I tell you my story
to make you understand.
Should I shed this pretense
and show you who I really am.
Should I let the tears fall
to show how much it hurts.
Should I pull up my shirt
for the scars to appear.
Should I cut myself
just to prove I'm still here.
Look at me now.
Who am I?
Let me know,
so I can prove you wrong.
It's not me you see
but someone else, totally different.
Can I touch your arm
and you can feel my skin.
Can I hold you close
and for a second escape the world I live in.
Can I let you go
and fall into darkness.
Can I return home
for him to beat me once more.
Can I cry out
and finally close up cold to core.
Take a glance.
Who am I?

by Ruthie Matthews II, age 15

You expect me to submit to you
And not do what I want to do
I have to dress up and look pretty
And I can only be your boo
When I pout on sweats
To you I look a mess
So I go back upstairs to get dressed
Only when I'm pretty will your mind rest.

Someone gets me a job
Finally I can stand up and be proud
'Cause I'll be able to support myself
But when you see my dream
You become keen
On tearing it down
You say I'm only hear to be pretty.

So I can't achieve personal success.
I am so frail, you say, I can only rest.
But when I get pregnant
you say it's for the best
And tell me to sit down and rest
Pregnant, barefoot, in a dress
I birth, feed, and take care of your children
While you sit back and chill.
And yet every evening
When I feel like I'm going to reel
I still have to perk up and be pretty,
pretending my wounds have healed.

Old and grey
With no successes to display
except for my grown kids.
Alone with you
There's nothing to do
Except get up and try to look pretty.

Life has now gone
And with death I'm all alone
Now I can't even look pretty.
Because of you, now all I know to do
Is continue to try and look pretty.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Meet the Newest Dream Keepers!

Every week we welcome new Dream Keepers. Our group has grown enough that we've split into two groups—a high school group that meets from 4-5 and a middle school group that meets from 5-6. These two I AM poems come from two of the younger members of our groups. Both children invented words to talk about themselves. My favorites: talk-full and feelative! 


by Tytiana Maire Cloyd, age 9

I am wise on the outside.
I am dark chocolate.
I am skinny like a pencil.
I am long curly hair.

I am heart-full.
I am talk-full.
I am grateful.
I am delightful.

I am an aunt.
I am a cousin.
I am a sister.
I am a niece.

I am Tytiana.

by Perry Green, age 11

I am caramel-skinned.
I am short.
I am brown-eyed.
I am big-footed.

I am very smart.
I am personal.
I am feelative.
I am curious.

I am an uncle.
I am a nephew.
I am a son.
I am a cousin.

I am Perry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear Mr. President-elect

Last winter, the Dream Keepers wrote letters to President Bush—many of them inspired by Pink's song, Dear Mr. President. This November, the teens wrote letters to President-elect Obama. I have sent them to the president-elect via his new CHANGE Web site. Read about the issues that concern our teens. Then, write your own letter and submit it to the president-elect.

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on being the first African American to be elected Head of State.

Hello, my name is Deanna Branch. I am 19 years old, and I live with my mom and two younger sisters. I am currently employed, and my mom is in nursing school. So I am the only one with a steady income. We are living from paycheck to paycheck and are struggling to pay the light bill. I even had to dip into my college fund to buy groceries.

Even though we have fallen on hard times, I will not lose hope. I will continue on to finish college, because I believe in my future. I will work hard and pray because I believe in God and I believe in you!

I believe you are the future, and I believe you lead the way towards a better economy. I support and believe in you because you’ve been where I’m from and you care for the single moms struggling to make ends meet and the starving college students reaching towards a brighter future.

Your sister through Christ,
Deanna Branch

PS I voted for you and I volunteered on your campaign. I even write an essay about you for a MLK scholarship application.


To President-elect Barack Obama,

My name is Ruthie Matthews II, and I am a fifteen-year-old resident in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Currently I attend Rufus King High School as a junior and am enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program there. Since it is my junior year at high school, my search for colleges to attend has intensified because I am going to send out applications soon. As I search and research colleges, I find that tuition has increased dramatically over all due to the increase of prices and that the amount of available scholarships have decreased. This is a major concern to me because I want to be able to go to college and be able to afford to go. I hope to become a biomedical engineer someday.

I know you already have a lot to consider and contemplate on, and, well, I am going to add one more think to your pile. President Obama, would you please consider adding more funding to scholastic scholarships, loans, grants, and programs so that average working citizens like myself can afford to get the highest education that America has to offer? Education is greatly important to me because it is needed not more than ever and without a proper education my generation will not be qualified to do work as doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, and the like. Without education, we will not be able to advance in science, technology, and even mentally. And if America’s youth cannot compete with the rest of the world, then I think that American will not be able to compete with the rest of the world. People say that the youth are the future, and I should hope that the people want their children—the youth—to be able to do just as well if not better than the generation before them and in order to do that, we, the youth, need to be able to get a higher education. That is pretty much all I wanted to ask you to consider.

Thank you so much for your time and effort. I believe that you will do a fantastic job as America’s president. We are all praying and rooting for you.

Thanks again,
America’s citizen,
Ruthie Matthews II


To the President-elect

Dear Senator Obama,

I congratulate you on your future role of president. My heart swells with pride at how you bear witness to the world of a testament of a people.

Seeing you was a triumph, not just for us of the African American race, but a triumph for all people of different ethnicities and backgrounds. While all this is a given, I am a fourteen year old African American who is interested in the reform of our country.

Education is failing; art programs are virtually non-existent. We have been blessed with talent, but we lack a work ethic known to generations before.

I understand that I am asking you to resurrect a people.

Our country has much to offer, but before we invest in others, we must first invest in ourselves. Jobs must be created here. Education must prosper here. Work ethics must prosper here.


Charrelynne Matthews

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Hopes and New Poems

When we met Monday night, the young people were giddy with excitement about the upcoming election. They were also worried. Would Obama be elected only to be assassinated? Could change really happen? I am looking forward to hearing what the young people have to say next Monday, now that history has been made. I plan to share with them the following quotes, sent to me by friends.

A statement that shows how far we've come: 
The first 26 Presidents could have OWNED the 44th. 

And a poem of hope:
Rosa sat so Martin could march.
Martin marched so Barack could run.
Barack ran so our children can fly.

And now onto this week's poems. 

by Lorzerrick Sheridan-King

I am cool.
I am hot chocolate.
I am think.
I am peaceful.
I am playful.
I am entertaining.
I am good.
I am good-hearted.
I am talented.
I am a child of God.
I am a boy that has more than ten brothers.

by Isaiah Dixon, age 11

I am bald-headed
 tall for my age
    chocolate caramel

I am loving

I am a son
 a brother
 an uncle
 a cousin.

I am Isaiah.

by Terena Dixon

I am black

I am intelligent

I am a child
 young adult

I am Terena.

Peace Poem
by Terena Dixon

Instead of hate, you could love.
Peace is when you
keep cool.
Peace is when there is
no violence.
Peace is when we
get along.

Monday, October 27, 2008

From Poem to Essay

Tonight six Dream Keepers met at Atkinson Library to begin working on the Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest. I just wrote five essays for a writing fellowship, so I know how long and hard the essay-writing process can be. Most of the teens asked to write poems instead. Here's the crazy part. When the students showed me their poems—I saw the seeds of essays. "This is your starting point," I said. "Really?" they asked. Yes. Really.

I can't show you those poems—I'll save them for January, when the essays are published. Two students did write acrostic peace poems just for the blog. Two other students wrote their I AM poems as a way to introduce themselves to you.

Enjoy reading. (Then go write your own poems!)

by Davonn May

Achieving man who
Reunited people of all ages. He was a
Truthful man. He also was
Intelligent. He was
Never racist.

by Daquan May


by Andreya Jones

I am brown-eyes, dark caramel colored, long nailed, long haired.
I am smart, funny, goofy, sporty.
I am a cousin, sister daughter, niece.
I am Andreya Jones.

by Patrice

I am dark-eyed, caramel-skinned, beautiful faced, Indian girl.
I am funny, creative, intelligent, shy.
I am an auntie, a daughter, an animal lover, and a sophomore.
I am Patrice.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Writing in Autumn

Tonight we met some new Dream Keepers.  How fun! They are students at the Young Leaders Academy. They wrote I AM poems and Urban Haiku poems. One of our founding members was also present, working on a scholarship application. Sitting in a bright, big room in the library, looking out the window to take in the leaves—it was a perfect afternoon. Enjoy!

I Am
by Daquan May, age 10

I am tall, caramel, handsome, skinny.
I am smart, goofy, playful, me.
I am a gymnast.
I play basketball.
I jump around.
I read books.
I am a son, brother, worker, player.
I am 10-years-old. 
I am Daquan.

by Daquan May

In my pocket I have
a lot of green.
Money is not the most important.
part of me.

I Am
by Davonn May, age 13

I am tall, handsome, smart, funny.
I am dark chocolate.
I am fast.
I play basketball, football, baseball, and swim.
I am Davonn May.

I am a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle.
I study. I do my work. I love school. I have good grades.
I go to church. I read the Bible. I am a son of God.
I am Davonn May.

by Davonn May

Leaves falling off the tree
Birds staring; looking at me.
The season changes, it gets cold
Back to the basic, the same old...

I Am 
by Tierra N. May, age 13

I am skinny, tall, chocolate, pretty.
I am funny, smart, goofy, me.
I am basketball player, runner, talker, bike rider.
I am daughter, sister, friend, kid.
I am Tierra N. May.

by Tierra N. May

Out of the seasons that change
leaves are beautiful
but all the same.

I Am
by Leroi May, age 12

I am short, funny, handsome, skinny.
I am funny, goofy, smart, me.
I am a basketball player, football player, runner, baseball player.
I am a brother, friend, kid.
I am Leroi May.

by Leroi May

Leaves turning different colors
Bird flying over me.
People staring; I'm jumping in the leaves.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fall Writing Work

We've been meeting at the library since September. Some of our work has to do with self-discovery. The young people have written about difficult past events—trying to make meaning from them. Psychologist James Pennebaker links this work with increased happiness and wellness over time. That work was beautiful and private. The girls have also been writing about their future—either a vision of their best possible future selves or a list of the fifty to one-hundred things they want to do before they die. Psychologists also link visioning a good future in great detail to increased happiness. These exercises are harder for the young people to do. I'm not sure why. I need to ask them about that. 

Here's a collection of poems that come from our various meetings this fall. I always have an assignment, but often the teens just want to write whatever comes to mind. Their goal is always to make something that's raw—or cool. And they do it. Every single time. Enjoy!

by Elisha Branch

Want to know what's funny, how people say poor girl's sitting alone
You snap and wave your hands at her, like no one's home.
With her hands on her head like it is fire in her dome
What's really going on is the complete opposite of shalom.
There's things digging in her head like a needle in foam.
If you only knew the things she does when she's alone.
You just might want to leave that poor girl alone.

In My Box
by Natalie Branch

In my box, there is no room for outsiders.
In my box, there is a lot of misbehavior.
In my box, my mind is adrift.
Thinking up fantasies and outrageous myths.
In my box, there is a maze,
Leading to wonder, mystery, and craze.
In my box, time is endless,
Thinking up fun and things that are meaningless.
In my box, I am safe.
Nothing can hurt me, because everything is fake.
But I don't know that; everything feels so real.
Where I am, and the way I feel.
In my box is where I run to hide.
Somewhere safe, where I still have my pride
Maybe I'll leave my box one day.
But for right now, that day's far, far away.

Urban Haiku
Writing Haiku poems teaches writers to pay attention. My favorite book on Haiku is by Patricia Donegan (I'll paste in a link at the end of this post). She teaches that writers should think about a Haiku poem as one breath instead of 17 syllables. You'll notice that some of the poems follow the traditional 5-7-5 pattern and others attempt the one breath. I invited the girls to write from their experience of life in the city. This differentiates these poems from traditional Haiku poems, which include a nature or season word. The other thing to notice: the young people really got the element of surprise or twist at the end of each poem. Read and enjoy (and write your own).

Urban Haiku
by Deanna Branch

Dog's Bite
Children screaming!
The dog's grimy teeth
pierce through my skin.

Old Country Buffet
All you can eat sounds sweet!
Stuffing my face
Making a pig
out of me!

Takin' Zion to the Park
Zion hits the ground.
Head screaming.
Nose Bleeding.
We're leaving!

Walking through the Cemetery
Walking through the cemetery
Man peeing on grave!
Teens making out!
No respect!

Sunday School
Sunday school lesson
What we can/cannot control.
My actions I can control.
Other people's actions, I cannot,

Urban Haiku
by Natale Branch

I love to read books
books help lift you up when you're
feeling very sad.

The baby screams loud
The mother wakes up; still asleep
baby is now quiet.

School is getting hard
poor girl is very confused
Only he can help.

Zion is my boo
He can help me make it through
school, sadness, and life.

Zion is my son,
without him I would die; I
need him to survive.

My inspiration
is Zion. He inspires me
to do good things.

Sweet little boy came
Cheered little girl up that day.
Sometimes change is good.

Here is the book we used to learn how to write Haiku poems:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Summer Dream Keepers

This summer eight young people gathered at Atkinson Library for the first-ever Book of Me class. We laughed, we played games, we ate—but most importantly we wrote and wrote and wrote.

The founding Dream Keepers also met this summer for meals, reading, and writing. Here's a sample of their recent work. More coming soon!

A Letter to a Candidate
by Deanna Branch

Dear Obama,

My life is a continuing struggle. I was born and raised in a rough neighborhood. I've experienced everything from the loss of a loved one, being homeless, and having no electricity. My neighborhood depresses me. Violence and drug abuse are epidemics here. My surroundings make me question if anyone really cares!

I am old enough to vote now, and you inspire me. You were raised by a single parent and by you being an endangered surviving black male, you have overcome some of the same struggles I have. I believe you can help because you know where I come from. Most people try to understand but you can only truly understand if you've been there and you have. I will never take my voting right for granted again.

Deanna Branch

Sport Your Tribal Colors
by Elisha Branch

What happened to our joy and pride?
What gives us the idea and need to hide?
We used to be happy and love our culture
And focus on our highway to the future.
We all clapped when King said the words, "Free at last."
But children today aren't taught the past.
Today, we need to acknowledge the people who fought
And listen to the lessons we are being taught.
We need to go in together to be one
You'll surely find out being yourself is more fun.
We need to grow up and love ourself and others
And don't forget to sport your tribal colors.

I Know I Am Strong
by Rachel Coney

He breaks me down and says I'm weak—
When I know I am strong.
They call me tramp and slut and that ain't all.
They make me mad, they spread rumors, and I feel sad.
They break me down—
When I know I am strong.
I cry. He yell and scream some more 
And then he call me a nasty whore.
If I could just go away for awhile,
I can find my inner beauty
and tell myself I'm not weak—
When I know I am strong.

by Natalie Branch

You say I'm headstrong.
You say I don't do anything wrong.
But I don't understand the words to your song.
You say I have many successful goals.
You say I do everything I'm told.
But the words to your beautiful song are getting old.
When I look inside me, I don't see it.
When I look at my life, the words to your song don't fit it.
You look upon me as if I am some kind of angel.
When I look in the mirror, I see the sign danger.
You compliment me with a big smile on your face.
All the while, I'm just waiting to escape.
Escape from you. Escape from me.
Escape to a world where I can be free.
When I leave don't try to find me.
When I leave don't even think about me.
I'm not saying this because I'm full of hate.
I'm saying this cause I just need to escape.

To Live
by Maya Montgomery

To live is to love.
To live is to have hope.
To live is to have fun.
To live is to love.
To live is to love and respect others.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Creating a Character

On Monday June 2, the girls and I met and read more from Things I Have to Tell You. Mostly, the girls write about their own lives. On Monday, the Dream Keepers tried something new. They wrote poems from a persona or a character—someone other than themselves. I love what they did. See what you think!

Born at 13
by Maya Montgomery

Born at 13—prematurely.
Momma didn’t want me.
Daddy abusing me.
Boys looking over me.
Brother selling.
Girls teasing.
Born at 13.
Look at me.
I look just like you.
Can’t you see?
Same hair, same eyes, same lips.
Born at 13.
Go to the same school.
See you every day.
So don’t judge me.
Born at 13.

Just Another Girl!
by Natalie Branch

When I first saw you, I couldn’t stand you.
When you first saw me, you wanted to nail me.
Every day you would spit yo’ game.
Everyday I looked at you with shame.
But one day, you said the sweetest thing.
I stopped being mad and I stopped being mean.
You became my man, and I was yo’ girl.
You were the only thing that mattered in my world.
Then I met this girl
She said you spit the same game to her, too.
We both went to you in rage.
She forgave you. But I turned away.
I couldn’t believe what you did.
I couldn’t believe I was pregnant with yo’ kid.
Today I have a two-year-old son.
He’s my everything, my only one.
He doesn’t know you, and you don’t know him.
All he knows is God, family, and friends.
I’ll teach him to respect everyone, even those like you.
But you’ll never know him, and he will never know you.

The Consequences of Loving Me
by Deanna Branch

He said he loved me.
I only loved his money.
So I drew him to me.
Like a sunflower to a bee.
The consequences of loving me.

He thought he could tell me anything.
I would joke about his deepest secrets with my friends.
He got mad, but his anger ceased
When I threatened to set him free.
The consequences of loving me.

He thought is undying love
would change me.
He thought his passion
could mold me
and I’d be sprung.
But when he drew near me, I told him
His stench made me sneeze.
The consequences of loving me.

My lesson to you
Sugar and spice
Isn’t always so nice.
A conqueror can’t be conquered
I am never satisfied
And I am hard to please
That is why your love
will never be enough for me.
And we could never really be
The consequences of loving me.

Who’s Watching
by Elisha Branch

His eyes saw it all.
He saw his mother screaming and yelling, trying not to fall.
His mother—getting beat my a man 6 feet tall.
Protecting her head, curled up into a ball
Running from the man down the narrow hall
All along the way, slamming into every wall.
He was so young, but he still witnessed it all.

Her eyes saw it.
She was all alone in the dark closet.
Being very quiet so he wouldn’t hear her.
But she still knew that he was coming near her.
All of a sudden, he went for her sister.
She was quite sure what he was going to do
but only because he did it to her, too.
She was screaming
Watched him kiss her
and said have a good day
Although you might not care.
I want to let you to know she was there.

While you’re standing there and still talking
You’ll never know who’s watching.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Tonight we began reading, Things I Have to Tell You: Poem and Writing by Teenage Girls edited by Betsy Franco. Two of the young women wrote about secrets. Elisha Branch wrote a poem about how our ancestors tried to change the world while many of us we sit by and do little good.

by Natalie Branch

My life is ruled by the weight of untold secrets.
I have them, you have them, we all have them.
My mom says all secrets are brought out eventually.
But it’s the ones we cannot imagine that scare me.
Past secrets, family secrets, future secrets.
What scares me most is you never know when
It’s gong to hit you or what it is.
You know the saying, “Every day you learn something new”?
Well, that’s true.
I could wake up tomorrow and find out my mom isn’t my mom or my dad isn’t my dad.
Don’t get me wrong.
There are good secrets and there are bad ones.
Secrets can either make you or break you,
but it’s up to you where those secrets are going to take you.

My Secrets
by Rachel Coney

I have a secret
That I’m afraid to tell
Cause I’m afraid that God will hear me.
And send me to hell.

I know it’s really bad to keep
A secret bottled up inside.
But for my own good
It’s the only place it can hide.

I bear, I bang, because I need to tell.
But if I would be half dead somewhere
screaming for help.

So I run away with my secret hidden inside.
And hoping that I would find
someone who really cares
and don’t ask why.

by Elisha Branch

They were committed, passionate and faithful.
And now we’re acting ungrateful.
They have all traveled and fought
and now we can’t even listen to the lesson we’re being taught.
They trip and tramp
and they dodge and duck
and now people are killing each other
just for a simple buck
They worked very hard to try to make progress
and now we have criminals running for congress.
They spread the word and had freedom in their clutches
and it’s getting destroyed, torn down by pitch forks and torches.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dear Mr. President

Tonight we listened to Pink's song, Dear Mr. President. The girls write their own letters and poems to President Bush.

Dear Mr. President
by Deanna Branch

War is an act of violence
Like killing each other makes us strong.
War is useless
Nothing follows in its tracks.
War is a remembrance
The rattles all placed on a map.
War is ignorance
People dying without a cause.
Peace sustains life
War ends life.
War is pain.
A son’s blood stains his mother’s tears.
Be the one to catch her tear drops.

Deanna Branch

Dear Mr. President
by Natalie Branch

Dear Mr. President, listen to me.
(Don’t talk. Just listen.)
This isn’t a song. It’s the truth.
Since your election, poverty rates went up.
Since your election, food stamps are harder to get.
Since you election, Reading Is Fundamental has been taken away.
Can you tell me why?
(Shut up.)
Why are we still in Iraq?
Why has gas and dairy product prices gone through the roof?
How many men and women must die for you to get it?
Do you even care?
(No you don’t.)
Once you’re gone, less people will be in poverty.
Once you’re gone, food stamps will come easy.
Once you’re gone, Reading is Fundamental will come back.
Once you’re gone, the war in Iraq will end.
Once you’re gone, gas and dairy prices will go down.
Once you’re gone, no more soldiers will die.
Are you happy?
(I am.)

Dear Mr. President
by Elisha Branch

I’m writing to the president.
But I’m not Pink.
I’m going to write something here
to make you think
I know I’m really young
and haven’t been to many places.
But I have seen a lot
of really sad faces.
I know I am not a saint.
And I am not perfect.
But killing over oil
isn’t really worth it.
There are plenty of children
left behind,
And one happy child
I cannot find.
America is not great.
We’re not even close
And I am just writing
‘Cause I thought you should know.

Dear President Bush
by Brittene Harden

If you even can take time out of your busy and so-called hard life and work and being guarded by your secret service, I have some words to tell, some questions to ask you, and some tears to shed for you. The question I need to ask you is that do you think anyone would get shot or die at a young age if they had the same secret service as you do? Do you think that we would have so many children learning about violence if you didn’t have a war on the east of the earth? Do you even care about us and what we feel? Do you know that we have babies going to bed hungry and their mother’s crying because her baby hasn’t eaten in two days and she hasn’t in four? What type of stuff is that?

Do you know that God has put you in the position for a reason and if you don’t accomplish it, he will take it away as fast as he gave it to you? As I write this I cry. Don’t you see the tear stains on the paper?

When you say my people in your speeches, are you talking about all your people? Why did you raise the prices of gas and rice? How would you feel if you were a mother holding your son and the pool of his blood in your hands? Have your daughters ever gotten a beating for not bringing theirlunch money to a bully? As I leave you here to think about this letter and maybe even cry, my name is Brittene and I should not die.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Beauty

Last night we read poems and essays about beauty in the book edited by Iris Jacob called, My Sister's Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out. The girls wrote poems in response. 

Standards of Beauty
by Natalie Branch

I’m that girl who never fits in.
I’m not fat nor am I thin.
I’m an African American with light skin.
When I walk out the house, I’m full of curiosity—
Not knowing what others will think of me.
Some may be jealous, others furious.
Me, I’m just curious.
My confidence isn’t low; it’s not high either.
My emotions are building up—like a deadly fever.
People like me because of who I am.
People hate me because I’m not like them.
Sometimes I ask myself: should I stay the same, or become someone else?
That’s something you will never again hear me say.
People say change, but I stay the same.
I am me, and I was born this way.
And this is how I will stay.

Yo! I’m sayin’!
by Deanna Branch

Q: Why you wear yo’ hair like that?

Yo! I’m sayin,
My hairstyle reflects my personality.
When I’m feeling creative, I braid the freshest designs.
When I feel bold, I change up my color.
And when I don’t want to be bothered,
I sweep bangs in my face!

Q: What’s up wit the grandma gear?

Yo! I’m sayin,
My style is sophisticated, sexy, and sleek.
I make trashy look classy and childish look mature.
Yo grandma gear ain’t got nothing on me.

Q: Yo! Tell me what ‘s up with the tight lookin pants?

Yo! I’m sayin,
Ain’t no shame in my game.
I love my hip hugging jeans
and so what if my butt sticks out from my jeans?
Those who don’t like it are allowed to kiss it.
Yo! I’m sayin.

by Elisha Branch

I don’t know what’s a cello
and I listen to a song called Ella
and they want to call me ghetto.

I eat cereal outside
watching people beg for a ride
and they want to call me ghetto.

My favorite food is tacos
and I have friends called pacos
and they want to call me ghetto.

I go to church in my everyday clothes
and our house door is never closed
and they want to call me ghetto.

We praise in the same place
and we all say grace
and they want to call me ghetto.

Get besty with me
and I’m a get besty with you
and you can keep on calling me ghetto.

My Body
by Brittene Harden

They talk about my
hips my thighs my
cute brown eyes.

But in the day-glow
which they will never
know how I flow.

I might be fat, ugly
and sloppy, but you
will never stop me.

One them days when
you talk and laugh about
me that means the only
thing is, is that I’m free.

See you have no
life that why you hurt
others. When in Christ
we are your sister
and your brother.

I never had a person
who hurt me like
you and there’s no
one who will see
me through.

You don’t have to be skinny or white
as snow, but how
I look while here
I go.

I’m thick in the
waist, ten in the
foot 38C on top
and my pride will never drop you

My Body
by Maya Montgomery

I may be tall and skinny
And I love the mouse named Minnie,

Say nothing to my small feet.
But I will be in that love seat.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Six-Word Memoirs

Greetings Dream Keepers' Fans! It's been awhile since I've posted the girls' writing. Well the hiatus is over!

A little over a month ago, I read that our local independent bookstore, Schwartz Bookshops, was hosting a contest based on the new book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. I bought the book, brought it to the Dream Keepers, and read a bunch of the memoirs to the group. The Dream Keepers were immediately captivated by the idea! Over the next two weeks, the Dream Keepers created several memoirs in the six-word style. I entered the Dream Keepers in Schwartz's Six-Word Memoir Contest--and they won!

Last night, I brought five of the Dream Keepers to Schwartz Bookstore on Downer for the store's six-word slam. They were all recognized and given an honorable mention (AND PRIZES!) for their writing. The Dream Keepers read their work to a good-sized crowd of community members. And, as a special treat, the Dream Keepers were interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio. Click here to hear their cameo appearance.

And stay tuned! The Dream Keepers have been writing away. They've written their opinions on the recent news that Milwaukee's 8th-grade African American students have the lowest writing scores in the nation. Their writing work has also protested stereotypical beauty images of teens and women. I'll post these writings soon.

For those of you who couldn't be present, here are their memoirs.

Six-Word Memoirs
by Deanna Branch

Look at me! Rude to stare.

Love is a pill; no cure.

Mad, angry, disgusted, couldn’t be trusted.

Fidelity is forgotten. Chivalry is dead.

Dead man walks on green mile.

Promises are kept. Mine are forgotten.

Why I cry? I know why.

Danger—educated black child. Wrong turn.

Love is lust, right feels wrong.

Trust is a flower. It wilts.

Be honest. Why do you lie?

Six-Word Memoirs
by Natalie Branch

A teenage non-mother with baby.

Some helpless baby hated, now loved.

A baby girl unwanted, never accepted.

Middle child, never seen—nor heard.

Happy, sad, fearful, glad—very confused.

First laugh, then cheer, now fear.

First walk, then run, then jump.

Live to love, born to die.

Homeless women and children—all forgotten.

“A” student, wrong turn, highschool dropout.

Fear of death rules my life.

My child’s name is not Ziggy.

Once was born. Soon will die.

Six-Word Memoirs
by Elisha Branch

Got greedy. Got ____. Got. got.

Story of my life best untold.

I am struggling in the ghetto.

Was born, was gangsta, got shot.

Born to care for needy children.

Wanna be the best I can.

No ordinary life, no ordinary story.

Hustle and flow the hood code.

I did the best I could.

No one loves me but God.

Don’t hate me. Everybody loves me.

Six-Word Memoirs
by Maya Montgomery

My friends. My family. My life.

Sports, boys, my life. So what?

Life, death. Which one came first?

One fall, one laugh, one lonely girl.

Stand tall, stand proud, live life.

Wrong turn, right turn, got there.

Six-Word Memoirs
by Rachel Coney

Fell down. Got up. Got life.

Found love. Lost love. Died young.

Laugh uncontrollably. It clears the mind.

When two hearts race, both win.

First cavity. Painful. Ruins my life.

Walked, ran, flew, still no air.

Boisterous and yet still no friends.

Tried so hard and got nowhere.

Kicked off bus. Can’t get on.

B-5 spelling bee. Lost first round.

Big baby only gets much bigger.

Six-Word Memoirs
by Brittene Harden

I was lost, now I’m found.

I was old, now I’m new.

I can be naughty and nice.

My blood pumps just for you.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Peace Poems

This year I was delighted to teach writing workshops for young people at The Kujichagulia Lutheran Center's 8th Annual Dr. King Day Event, 2008 (http://www.lutheransonline.com/lo/Kuji). I gave the students some simple poem starters to spark their writing, and they came up with amazing poems. Here are some of the starters that students worked with:

*Instead of . . .; You could . . .

*This is what I need to say. . .

*Peace is when . . .

*The truth is . . .

We also talked together about why poets write. Sometimes poets write poems for ourselves--to help us work through experiences or emotions. Sometimes poets write poetry to help change the community and the world. To this end, I offered to mail any or all of the poems to the Mayor or the President. I also promised to publish poems on this blog. The following poems come from students who asked that their poems by published here. Others are on their way to President Bush and Milwaukee's Mayor. Read them and then write your own poem for peace.

Young Brother
by Josiah Williams

Young Brother, I’ll let you know.
The truth of the world, to let you grow.
The truth of the world, to let you see.
How a man in this life is supposed to be

Young Brother, keep your word.
Learn what you’ve heard, the truth is verb.
Although you will hurt, you shall not hate.
I’m tellin’ you now, before it’s too late.

Young Brother, the truth is sad.
The way you are judged will make you mad.
The stereotypes, labels and names,
could crush your heart and hurt your brain.

Young Brother, keep faith awake
When times get hard, you should rise, not break.
So one day, you will teach to another
Another great soul. Another Young Brother.


This is What I Need to Say
by Elisha Branch

This is what I need to say:
Do what you need to have a good day.
This is what I have to say:
Pick someone positive to show you the way.
This is what I could say:
You have no business here; go away.
But this is what I should say:
Talk to me and don’t let your mind stray.
This is what I want to say:
Come with me if you may
But this is what I choose to say:
Nothing at all.


Peace Haikus
by Nile Lloyd

Peace is with great Love,
Apart of peace is good joy,
You should have wonderful peace.

Share peace with your friends
Always know what your peace is.
Children have really great peace.

God’s gift is great Peace
The smell of flowers is great peace.
See peace everywhere now.


by Samuel Melander-Eppley

4 pints of joy
2 cups of no war
10 pounds of love
2 quarts of trust
1 Tablespoon of living
2 teaspoons of peace

First, mix 4 pints of joy with two cups of no war.
Then, clump 10 pounds of love like a rock.
Throw in 2 quarts of trust, 1 Tablespoon of living,
and 2 teaspoons of peace. Mix them all together.
Put it in the oven at 360 degrees
and congratulations, you have got a freedom cake.


by Sojourner White

P is for Power!
E is for Equality!
A is for Adventure!
C is for Creativity
E is for Enrichment


I Am
by Sojourner White

I Am Trustworthy
I Am Peace
I Am Creative
I Am Peace
I Am Faith
I Am Peace
I Am Me!
I Am Peace!

I Am My Mother
I Am Peace
I Am My Father
I Am Peace
I Am That Stranger
I Am Peace
I Am Me!
I Am Peace!

I Am Sojourner
I Am Peace
I Am Sojo
I Am Peace
I Am Helen
I Am Peace
I Am Me!
I Am Peace!

I Am What I Wanna Be
I Am Peace
I Am Who I Be
I Am Peace
I Am What I Be
I Am Peace
I Am Me And Only Me!


by Natalie Branch

Instead of fighting
You could walk away

Instead of dying
You could live another day

Instead of using foul language
You could say Grace

Instead of crying
you could play, play, play.

Instead of going from here to there
You could stay in one place.


I Wish
Alexis Miller

I wish that one day all this can stop because little babies and kids are getting killed and this is getting so bad and gangs, I don’t like how they sell drugs in the city.
I think that people could have programs that get young people off the streets instead of young kids having sex on the streets, doing drugs. Young people need adults to sit down and talk to them. Like today, I went to these programs about Rev. King. They talk about color and violence in the streets and about guns smoking like it is the young kids that are out there and the Moms taking care of us. But that is not always true because some Dads take their kids in like my dad took me.
What can we do about things that are going on?


by Aliyah Durden

This is what I need to say.
I wanna talk about
Milwaukee’s violence today.
Guns, drugs, everything else;
the violence in Milwaukee
needs to stop.
Killings, shootings, robberies, suicides, rapists,
and anything I forgot.
Milwaukee’s streets are terrible.
Why is that so?
I don’t know.
I want to stop all the hatred and poverty.
It’s not right.


Instead of
by Maya Montgomery

Instead of fighting
You could talk it out.
Instead of smoking
You could do something healthy.
Instead of talking in class,
You could do your work.


Peace is when . . .
by Maya Montgomery

Peace is when there is no war.
Peace is when everyone loves each other.
Peace is when there is no violence.


by Nubia Lloyd

Peace is love!
Enjoy one another
And also have respect
Care for each other
Enjoy your family.


by Nubia Lloyd

Peace is love, friendship, trust,
understanding, laughter, no war,
respect, joy, faithfulness, patience,
kindness, goodness, gentleness,
and loving everyone!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Peace Poem

Peace is to . . .
a poem by Milwaukee teens
composed at The Kujichagulia Lutheran Center's
8th Annual Dr. King Day Event, 2008

Peace is to hug
Peace is to love
Peace is to have fun
Peace is to share
Peace is to jump for joy
Peace is to relax
Peace is to be happy
Peace is to show your feelings
Peace is to show faithfulness
Peace is to share happiness
Peace is to live
Peace is to enjoy
Peace is to appreciate
Peace is to be fair
Peace is to love
Peace is to be equal
Peace is to be nonviolent
Peace is to not fight
Peace is to love your family
Peace is to say no to conflicts
Peace is to respect others no matter what
Peace is to give
Peace is to love as to love is to cherish
Peace is to admire
Peace is to be kind
Peace is to stop war
Peace is to share
Peace is to be kind
Peace is to be faithful
Peace is to cherish

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dream Keepers Meet Writer Yolanda White

On January 16th, the Dream Keepers met Milwaukee-area writer Yolanda White. What fun we had hearing about her writing gigs and doing some of our own writing! The picture features from left to right, Writer Yolanda White, a friend of Yolanda's, Dream Keepers Deanna and Natalie Branch.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

America Must Change: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last fall, I challenged the Dream Keepers to write essays for the local Martin Luther King essay contest. The contest theme was America Must Change. I brought stacks of books from the library. The Dream Keepers spent two sessions reading and taking notes. Then they wrote rough drafts. I read the essays and gave some feedback. The Dream Keepers asked to add extra writing sessions so that they could polish their essays. I happily agreed.

After the essays were turned in, I promised the Dream Keepers that I would publish their work once the judging was complete. None of the Dream Keepers placed in the essay contest--but I consider all of them winners. The Dream Keepers took time to learn, think, and write about a topic of significance. In this process, they gained wisdom that can never be taken away from them. On Sunday, the Dream Keepers will read their essays at our church, Hephatha Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. They will have the opportunity to talk to their community about how America must change.

Take a moment to read their essays and pass on the link to your friends and family. Let others know what the Dream Keepers are saying about how America Must Change.

America Must Change
by Maya N. Montgomery

“When the history books are written
someone will say there lived black people
who had the courage to stand up for what is right.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore, p. 1

I think that America must change by stopping the rates of murder, educating youth, building more schools than jails, stopping teen pregnancy, and stopping selling guns and drugs.
If we control ourselves and do not control other people the world would be a better place. To change America, I must change myself. To do this I must be a leader and not a follower. I must be my own and unique person. I must think of the effect of what I do on the people around me. In my community, I see children choosing to go to church on their own. I go to church instead of staying in bed. I do my work instead of talking in class. I be a friend to make friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said violence is not the answer. I think that abusing our bodies is violence. When we use drugs and have unsafe sex, we are abusing our bodies. People stand up for their rights when they do not use drugs and have unsafe sex. To stop teen pregnancy, all girls need to go to a class talking about the effect of unsafe sex and pregnancy. Once they are pregnant, they drop out of school, and then they cannot support their child because they cannot get a job.
People stand up for their rights by leading people to do positive things, by telling them the right thing to do and not the wrong thing. Parents should send their kids to school to get a better education. In my church, there is a woman who is fostering a little boy who is autistic. We learn from her.
America will change by people standing up for what is right. I have that dream. I hope you feel the same way.

America Must Change
by Elisha Branch

Because you are colored.
“Because you are colored,” is the response that Dr. Martin Luther King got after asking, “Why do we have to ride on the back of the buses, use separate public bathrooms, and drink from different water fountains?” People were led to believe that black people were not worthy of having the proper respect, kindness, and dignity that all human beings should have. And for this reason, black people were not allowed to have the same rights and privileges. Black kids and white kids were not allowed to go to the same schools. They were not allowed to go to the same churches or to sit in the same room at doctor’s offices. Many great heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks thought that this must change.

You are as good as anyone.
Martin Luther King’s mother once told him, “You are as good as anyone.” That is why he thought that the way his people were being treated was cruel and wrong. With that thought, a group of ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This group worked against the black and white segregation laws. In 1957,Martin Luther King was selected president of the group. The SCLC did many protests and speeches all across the country. They fought for equal rights for all.

I have a dream today.
Many years ago, people took different approaches towards the changes in America. Now there is a new problem. Not the problem of black people believing that we are not worthy but us acting like we are not worthy of being respected. We are disrespecting ourselves and other people. Future great leaders of today—positive leaders and some children of America—think that this must change.

To the mountaintop.
Children and positive leaders of today started organizations like the Boys and Girls clubs and learning centers so that there could be positive places for kids to go when they were out of school. People also made commercials and television programs such as “Hang Tough” to encourage kids to be drug and alcohol free. These groups and organizations do these things to get kids off the streets. If we get more kids off the streets there will be a decrease n violence. People do these things to protect the children and adults in America. With so much violence and war in the world, we are all trying to join together and say, “America must change.”

“I see a ray of hope but I am different from my father. I feel the need of being free now.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

America Must Change
by Deanna Branch

We live in a society warped in turbulence. Many of today’s youth are living a painful existence and dying senseless deaths. Poverty and violence are just a few of the problems that make a devastating impression in my surroundings. It is due time that we face these issues and bring these truths to surface.
Dr. King was a great leader simply because that is exactly what he was created to do. Sometimes within the community, the only existing role models are negative ones (drug dealers, gang leaders, and exploiters of women), stereotypical ones (waiters, clerks, maids, and other blue collar workers), or unrealistic ones (professional athletes and pop singers.)
Financial instability is often a forerunner of poverty. But change can start with just one person. Ten wise words are, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” If you have no confidence in yourself, you are twice defeated in the race of life, but with confidence you have on before you have started.
Take advantage of the many opportunities offered in the university of life. Make it a habit to travel to different places as often as possible. Travel exposes us to new people, places, and ideas and different ways of life. Adding new words to one’s vocabulary can easily increase one’s capacity for self-expression. A Chinese proverb says:
Tell me and I’ll forget.
Show me and I’ll remember.
Involve me and I’ll understand.
Much of success in life will depend on our willingness to pursue the challenge and make God’s will the number one priority. When this is done, everything else will fall into place. If we recognize God in everything we do, God promises to direct our path.

I Have a Dream
America Must Change
by Natalie Branch

I can’t stand the way the youth today are being stereotyped but what saddens me the most is how we fit right into that stereotype. For instance, when people say that all African American people are violent and ignorant, we prove them right every day. We choose parties and friends over school, and we fight if you look at us wrong or just because. Every night I go to sleep and dream that one day the youth will wake up and realize that life is worth living. I dream that they would put their best foot forward and help relight the torch Martin Luther King, Jr. lit for us.

Free at last,
Free at last,
Thank God almighty
I’m Free at last.
Although we as a people have a long way to go to be truly free, we have grown a tremendous length from where we started. We can sit wherever we want on the bus, we can eat at any restaurant, and drink out of any water fountain we choose but we are still not free. But the majority of people living in poverty are African Americans. Why did we start from the bottom, skyrocket to the top, only to end up at the bottom again? Today’s youth has lost sight of that drive and ambition that our ancestors had. I, for one, think it is high time we bring it back.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we were to ask Martin Luther King, Jr. that very questions, he could give us 1001 answers and maybe more. If we were to ask today’s youth that question, you would get 10 answers. Today’s youth could help out in many ways. They could help elders up the church stairs. They can volunteer at Boys and Girls clubs. But many of today’s youth just doesn’t care. They’d rather play video games, fight, ditch school, and abuse their siblings. Ask yourself if this is the most persistent and urgent question in life. Then why is it that your son, daughter, niece, or nephew can only give so much as ten answers?

The hope of our childhood and the promises of our mature years are unfinished symphonies.
What this means to me is that you’ll never know where life is going to take you or how much is promised to you. What I do know is that we have to live our lives for God and our youth. Adults are sometimes the reason for these “I don’t care” youth because they don’t care and they teach their children not to care. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave every ounce of his being for his children and the youth. We adults and children need to help finish what he started.

Segregation or integration?
I fear that with the outstanding number of “I don’t care” youth our history or prejudice will repeat itself. Our race is at our weakest point because our children are our future and if the children don’t care then we have no future. I want to help change America but I cannot do it alone. Will you help me?