Even before COVID-19, the spaces that InsideOut and Citywide Poets carves out of time are magical. With our experiences and creativity we get to shape alternate worlds where we are beautiful and powerful and unashamed and far from average.
Recording and performance artist, Hip-Hop activist, and U.S. musical ambassador, Mahogany Jones is also an experienced arts educator who brings her talent and passion to her role as a Writer-in-Residence both in the schools and in our Citywide Poets afterschool program for teens.
While leading students in a virtual environment can sometimes be challenging, Mahogany still shared many memorable moments with students and young poets this year. She describes one session that started off slow, but turned into a fruitful space for creating and sharing:
Because we were virtual, it took some time to get a few of our sites going. We were ready to give up and close a site that had fewer students, when we had three visitors join us. They were very resistant and insistent that they only came because their friend made them, and they really weren’t going to write much or share because “poetry wasn’t their thing.”
By the end of the session, those three young ladies had written, and shared, and encouraged one another, and we wound up going over our session time. From that “visit,” they made our sessions their home.
Having these virtual spaces has helped students connect with each other and form a sense of community during this “new normal,” Mahogany says. She shares how the empowering spaces InsideOut creates have been especially important for students navigating the uncertainties of this past year:
Even before COVID-19, the spaces that InsideOut and Citywide Poets carves out of time are magical. With our experiences and creativity we get to shape alternate worlds, worlds where we speak the same language and worlds where we embrace, encourage, and applaud one another. Worlds where we are beautiful and powerful and unashamed and far from average. Even before COVID, we needed worlds like that, and now, with so much around us that is unsure and unsettling—we need those worlds and their wizards more than ever.
Mahogany has seen the impact these spaces of creativity and encouragement have had on her students. She describes how one student’s consistent participation helped him grow in his confidence as a writer and thinker:
There is so much to be said for consistency. This one student “KB” I don’t think missed one session. His faithful attendance paid off in his growth as a writer. He was always very creative; however, when we first began, I could feel his overthinking and second guessing. As he continued on, you could hear his confidence as a writer and a poet grow. Now, the way he connects his ideas feels comfortable, fluid, and strong.
Some of Mahogany’s tips for keeping students engaged online include using different functionalities of the meeting space such as the chat box or breakout rooms, allowing students to select their music for writing, and incorporating activities that get students standing or moving around. A variety of topics and activities each session also helps keep students interested and provides them with different ways to express themselves, Mahogany says. During a few sessions, Mahogany had guest improv instructors, which added a fun, playful element that brought the class together.
Mahogany also describes the importance of making time during each class for students to check-in with one another:
Building community through our warm-ups has been key. The time that we take to get to know one another has made all the difference. Checking in and making sure we are all still “ok,” I think, as simple as it seems, has kept us plugged in. Our check-ins have helped us to create our own joy and that joy finds its way through the remainder of our session.