On Monday, I got to spend some quality time with 60-some teenagers
in our Global Kids programs from around New York City — kids who we
call our “GK Leaders.” Normally being stuck in the woods with 60 teens
sounds more like a bad horror movie rather than a fun time to me. But this
was a really rewarding and cool experience.
Global Kids has been
taking teens up to the lovely Clearpool Retreat Center up in Carmel,
New York for dozen years or so. It’s got everything you could want in
a youth camp: a large dining hall with a big buffalo head over the
fireplace, a nearby pond (now frozen over), hiking trails, basketball
court, soccer field, art center… even wifi!
We started the retreat with some team building exercises for our
teens, grouping them into five teams composed of kids from different
schools. Together they had to face together all sorts of challenges,
from building a structure using only a few basic art supplies, to
reproducing a drawing based on the verbal description of a partner, to
a drumming exercise involving each person creating a rhythm and
teaching it to the rest of the group. It was a good way to get our
teens out of their cliques and get them working together from the
Later that evening, I helped facilitate a long,
multi-stage workshop on “Global Arts for Social Change” with fellow GK
trainers Savith, Nassim, Bishop and Marielle. (This is a good time to
remind my readers that I’m not an educator and am terrified of having
to teach in front of a large group of teenagers.)
We began with a
discussion about what are differents forms of art and how they could be
used for social and political change. This was when we were supposed
to show the video reel I worked so har d to prepare. Unfortunately we
were not able show the reel because somehow our projector was missing
its power cord! I won’t lie: I was not a happy camper after this.
we managed to give our teens a good foundation for thinking about how
arts can be used for change. Now it was time for them to create their
They got to choose from four different kinds of art:
visual / street art, beats, performance / dance, and poetry / spoken
Savith and I were facilitating the poetry / spoken word
section since we are both poets and writers. We were both a bit worried
about how we were going to manage the group. I mean, poetry is such a
personal and often raw form of expression that can take weeks and
months of effort to create. What could we expect them to produce in
20-30 minutes of writing? Particularly on a social or political
issue? I personally would find this task nearly impossible.
shouldn’t have underestimated them. We had a great group of ten young
poets who were itching to write and share their work. After a few
minutes of discussion about poetry and spoken word, I read the
fantastic “Each One, Pull One” poem by Alice Walker that the teens were
really moved by. Several of them wanted me to read another one. I
pulled out “America” by Langston Hughes and was about to start when one
of the teens asked, “but when do we get to write?”
Savith and I
realized quickly that we just needed to get out of their way and let
them create. We found a quieter space for them to write, gave them
some blank paper and pens, and left them largely to themselves for 25
minutes. Then we gathered up for five minutes of quick sharing and
processing to wrap up our session together. Easy peasy.
finally came time for the large group of 60 teens to come together, we
had six of our poets who were ready to present. Savith and I stood in
the middle of the teens assembled in a big circle, setting the stage
for our poets by giving some background on what they produced and how.
Suddenly Stephanie, an outspoken African-American teen, stood up from
her seat and shouted, “May I have your attention?”
“Excuse me, we are just finishing our presentation,” Savith replied.
said: May I have your attention?” she shouted, even louder. Then
Stephanie walked to the middle of the circle and delivered perfectly a
very funny and powerful piece that channeled the various kinds of
appeals for spare change you get on the subways of New York, gently
weaving in a social change message.
The crowd went nuts.
and I then brought up five other teens to deliver their poems, which
explored a wide range of issues and emotions. One young woman spoke
about wanting to sleep to escape her life and go to a better place,
another raged against the violence against his people in the Gaza
Strip, a third worried about being deported back to Mexico. Each one
got thundrous applause.
I couldn’t have been more proud. It is
a unique form of satisfaction hearing the young people that you
facilitated stand up and deliver their own work beyond your own
expectations of them.
As the evening wore on, we were treated
to a rousing drum, call-and-response, singing piece, a couple of
examples of street theater, and a parade of political signs created by
the visual artists. Then somehow it all came together with a
mini-production that combined all of the work into one somewhat chaotic
but cool multi-art ensemble piece.
As to my own meager gifts as
an educator, I owe a lot of thanks to Savith, as well as Nassim,
Marielle, and Bishop, for helping me prepare for this. I have, if that
is even possible, even more respect and admiration for how our trainers
manage to bring the best out of these kids that lots of other folks
have largely ignored or counted out.
Much later that night, I
had another cool bonding experience with six of our teens in the boy’s
cabin. We had told our boys that we would kick them out of the cabin
living room at 11:30pm and then turn out all the lights at midnight.
Boys being boys they were making all sorts of rukkus in the living
room, wrestling, doing push up contests, and who knows what else.
went in to check on them at 11pm, just to remind them about the curfew
when I heard one of the boys telling another one to do his breakdance
move. One of the Palestinian teens did a little foot shuffle and then
a sort of cartwheel. Hmmm, I thought.
“You guys want to learn some breakdancing?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” a bunch of them replied, surprised.
then proceeded to show them some basic moves and freezes, like the
six-count, the dolphin dive, and the baby freeze. They gamely tried
each one of the moves, shouting encouragements to each other and
helping correct each others technique. Within a few minutes, I had them
panting and complaining about how tired their legs and arms were. Once
it was time to turn out the lights, I think several of them were
grateful to be hitting the sheets.
“You are coming to the
dance-a-thon next week, right?” one of our teens Ibrahim asked me as I
sent them to their bunks. Global Kids does an annual dance-a-thon with
our teens to raise funds for scholarships for some of our most eligible
and needy seniors applying to college.
“I gotta represent. I’ll be there,” I repled. “But only if you guys are there to battle me.”
“Ho!” “Oh yeah!” “It’s on!”
you want to support awesome teens like these to get to go to the
college of their choice, sponsor me for the Global Kids Dance-a-Thon at