Street Poets: Healing L.A. Youth Through the Power of the Pen

January 22, 2014

“Now I see since my youth
I’ve had the key
To open the door inside me
This pen & pad will set me free”
-“Me Myself & I”
by Eric Henderson, Street Poet

The idea for Street Poets first came to Chris Henrikson back in 1995, while he was volunteering through the Writer’s Guild of America at Camp Miller, a Los Angeles County Probation Camp in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Henrikson found himself going back to lead weekly workshops before finally forming a poetry performance group with some Camp Miller alumni. Street Poets began to tour L.A. area high schools, churches and community centers, sharing their deeply personal stories while opening up a dialogue about the healing power of poetry. Through their after-school programs and workshops, Street Poets now works with hundreds of L.A. students.

“The challenge with the increased standardization of our educational system is that many teachers no longer have the freedom to engage their students in this kind of soulful self-exploration,” Henrikson said.  “Arts budgets have been cut, classrooms are overcrowded and there often isn’t time to ask the kind of questions that might open the door to deeper connection.  Without that connection, students are more likely to disengage and drop out.”

Henrikson believes that the support from the Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow initiative has helped Street Poets fill a void in many South Los Angeles high schools by providing classroom enrichment and after-school poetry and music production workshops that empower youth to explore themes that might not always fall neatly within a standards-based curriculum.

The group recently acquired a “Poetry in Motion” van in order to bring creative inspiration to surprising places and to bring youth out into nature where they can connect with their true selves.

For almost two decades, Henrikson and the Street Poets have brought a healing voice to Los Angeles high school students. “Street Poets operates with the understanding that every young person is born with a purpose, with specific gifts to share, not only for their own healing, but for the healing of their families, their communities and the world,” says Henrikson.

“Many young people get stuck in the trap of trying to avoid talking and writing about their problems, because it’s painful.  And because of that, they get stuck.  Once you give voice to your story, you assume power over it, as opposed to it having power over you. Many people, not just youth, feel suffocated inside their own stories.  We use poetry to help set them free.”

Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow (PAT) is a five-year, $12 million initiative of the California Community Foundation. It seeks to improve academic achievement, decision-making skills and self-esteem of youth in South Los Angeles and the South Bay through sports, music and recreation.

Launched in 2011, PAT provides grants to nonprofits for direct services for young people and helps strengthen the ability of nonprofits to deliver services over the long-term.

PAT was made possible by a generous legacy gift from an anonymous donor whose life was devoted to helping others as a volunteer to nonprofits in Southern California and who valued the opportunities that music and athletics can provide to young people.  For more information on PAT, please visit https://www.calfund.org/pat 

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