Friday, July 06, 2018

Central Library Hosting Civil Rights Through the Eyes of a Young Poet Camp July 9-13

by Roy L. Williams, Public Relations Department at Birmingham Public Library

John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets

What: Civil Rights Through the Eyes of a Young Poet
When: Monday-Friday, July 9-13, 2018, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Where: The Central Library Youth Department Create205 Learning Lab, 2nd Floor
Details: Words are power. The Real Life Poets and the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) Archives Department are partnering to teach teens how to put their words on paper and make their own mark on history. We’ll talk about the civil rights movement in Birmingham in the 1960s, then write, sing, and spit verse about the civil rights movement now. Each participant will complete a spoken word poem by the end of the week to be archived in BPL’s digital archives to share with the world. This program is among over 400 Summer Learning activities being offered at BPL’s 19 locations this summer. Summer Learning is sponsored by a generous donation from the Alabama Power Foundation.

On Monday, July 9, a weeklong teen poetry camp kicking off at the Central Library will examine how the civil rights movement in Birmingham transformed the world and teach participants how to express their feelings on paper.

By the end of the week, participants in the second annual Civil Rights Through the Eyes of a Young Poet will create their own poems about civil rights then and now, and read their pieces out loud. Their poems will be recorded and archived in the Birmingham Public Library Archives Department for future generations to hear.

The camp is a partnership between the BPL Archives Department, which houses several artifacts documenting Birmingham’s civil rights history, and Real Life Poets, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that uses spoken word and hip-hop to empower young people to be the voice of the next generation. John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets, talked about the camp and what participants can expect.

BPL: What is Civil Rights Through the Eyes of a Young Poet?
Taylor: It is designed around civil rights then and now with spoken word as the tool. The civil rights movement and archives here at BPL will be the foundation for the pieces the young people will create.

What was the reaction from participants last year? Most of them had never done a poem before.
I was most impressed with the level of awareness young people gained in the process. Our young people last year were mostly homeschooled which is a different dynamic. So over the week it was amazing to see how they interacted with each other and were able to talk about these issues. I thought it was a great first experience but I see room for us to improve this year. One of the greatest things was we had a very diverse group. Seeing the civil rights artifacts they brought so much of a different perspective about it. They were able to speak honestly about their viewpoints.

I remember the day they actually recorded their poems, you describe their growth from the beginning of the week to the end. Share your thoughts on that.
That first day it was like pulling teeth to get them to say one thing they liked about themselves or get comfortable speaking publicly. By the end of the week we watched these young people stand up and boldly speak about civil rights. Some were a bit more shy, but even those who still had shyness in them the group was so encouraging it helped them come out of their shell.

When Jim Baggett, head of BPL Archives Department, showed artifacts such as actual slave handcuffs and bomb fragments from the KKK bombing that killed the four little girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it was incredible to see how it captivated young people hearing that for the very first time. Your thoughts?
We live so much in the now many of us don’t look back at our history and how we got to this point. It is not this romanticized, antebellum period that got us here. For a lot of people it was a struggle. Many young people today don’t know about their history. This camp will be very educational for our teens.

Talk about how these poems will be recorded for BPL’s archives so future generations will be able to hear their civil rights poems.
It gives them the awareness that what I say right now has the opportunity to impact future generations. This two minute poem can have such a profound ability to move people in the future. You get to speak for a population who don’t have the voice or platform like this. If you have a teen in Birmingham who wants their voice heard, they should take advantage of the opportunity to participate in this. It’s another tool to express yourself.

Anything to add?
We are appreciative of this partnership with the Birmingham Public Library. Real Life Poets will be going to participate in the national poetry competition Brave New Voices in Houston, Texas, July 15-19, 2018. We need support for this and other programs. Go to and click on the donate button, or you can go to our Real Life Poets Facebook page. It is tax-deductible.

Real Life Poets is a 501c3 nonprofit organization geared towards using the spoken word and hip-hop to empower our young people to be the voice of the next generation. 

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