Workshop attendees, left to right: Rivan Calderin, Alex Haag, Emma Haag, Rick Haag, Liz Mariani
The Burlington-based Young Writers Project
held a special Soundcheck event last Friday to address gun violence, youth activism and school safety.
Twice postponed due to inclement weather, the event at the BCA Center consisted of a writing workshop led by slam poets and educators Rajnii Eddins and Denise Casey, as well as an open mic session.
About 20 people, most of them teens, attended the workshop. Using writing prompts from Eddins and Casey, they had seven minutes to write either poetry or prose. The first prompt — a letter to a young victim of gun violence — elicited emotionally charged artistic expressions.
Alex Haag, 16, from Bellow Falls Academy wrote:
"You are a hero
You are a martyr
but your life has been
stripped unjustly from you
To help the world you
Yet we, the living
Owe you everything"
Isabel Blakenbaker, 14, from Long Trail School, was overcome with emotions when she shared her prose.
"I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry it didn't have to. I'm sorry you went through this. I'm just sorry I don't know what else to say ... I'm sorry because what else can I be when the issue seems so simple yet the people with the power to stop this are so unmovable. I'm sorry."
By 7 p.m., the crowd had grown to about 50 people. Eddins kicked off the second half of the evening — the open mic — by singing a song that his mother composed shortly after the September 11 attacks. It was titled "I'd like there to be a war where nobody came."
Instead of applauding, members of the audience rubbed their hands together to encourage those who took to the mic. Some attendees also snapped their fingers during the performance to show approval.
Haag, his sister, Emma, and Blakenbaker were among those who participated in the open mic. Another was Ella Staats from Burlington High School. Her work, "Valentine's Day 2018," was recently showcased on Vermont Public Radio
Youth activism didn't end when the open mic concluded. A trio of students took the opportunity to invite young writers to submit poems, essays and short stories on issues such as gun control, rights and awareness for Native Americans, the pay gap and immigration to the Writers for Change group. The leaders plan to submit these pieces to Congress.