[Union Square Farmers’ Market; my farmers’ market]
Last week I attended an open mic featuring young writers from the Books of Hope* program at Mystic Housing Project’s learning center—a daycare center/classroom/activity room/arts and crafts studio located in the housing project’s multi-purpose building. And witnessed an amazing moment:
Like most open mics, the readers, who have been working with the program’s facilitators on poetry and personal reflections re Black Lives Matter, signed up to read their work. As the sign-up sheet clipboard was passed around the center, these public-housing youths ate pizza, socialized, listened and observed an equally talented, young DJ do his thing while they worked on a piece of writing inspired by a Black Lives Matter declaration. And then, in the order they’d signed up, these talented young people, most in their teens or early twenties, read aloud. And were amazing!
One of the last to be called up was one of the youngest poets. Let’s call her Angela. Angie is maybe eight, ten, twelve and had never before participated in an open mic. So one of the learning center staff—I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name—volunteered to be her opening act. (Apparently he’d promised her he’d be “silly.” But proved to be a non-silly, gifted storyteller) The DJ played “2001: A Space Odyssey”‘s opening theme, everyone “gave it up” for Angie, and a young, terrified girl clutching a much-handled piece of notebook paper walked to the front of the room and stood behind the microphone.
She couldn’t speak. Not even when flanked by her opening act and Heather, another learning center staff member. So then, everyone in the audience was invited to come to the front of the room; we all did, maybe fifteen, twenty of us. And then Angie, in tears, began to read—accompanied by Heather: “The police . . .”
Was she terrified because she’d never performed before? Or did the word “police” and what she wanted to say about them trigger her terror? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that just about everyone standing beside her did know. That community of young people, whose lives almost never overlap mine, brought their deeper understanding of Angie’s backstory, whatever it is, to their simple act of kindness.
* Books of Hope is a youth literacy empowerment program inspiring the next generation of young authors and performers from Somerville, MA and the Greater Boston area.