Ladies of Literature pen passionate poetry
on December 12, 2012
Room 204 in Building D of El Cerrito High School looks like nearly every other high school classroom known to mankind.
There are desks — one is larger and set in a corner for the teacher.
There are windows and a floor and a whiteboard.
But in Room 204, the classroom that is home to Ladies of Literature, or LOL, more than just learning and homework happens.
In Room 204, the desks are placed in circle and the lesson begins not with handing back tests, but with a check-in.
“Tell me how your day was,” says Drea Brown, LOL’s instructor.
And they go around the circle. Some of the girls had good days, some bad. Snaps for good and support for bad.
Sitting in a circle, snacking on salads and Cool Ranch Doritos, the ladies seem at home with one another, engaged in what they each have to say.
Strange behavior for any high school class, especially one full of teenage girls.
But LOL is as much a way of life as it is a class, especially for Brown, who founded the group in 2008 through the James Moorehouse Project at El Cerrito High.
Three years ago the lunch group became an official creative writing elective.
“I made this class because poetry saved my life when I as their age,” Brown said.
Growing up in St. Louis, Brown said there were a lot of things in her life she couldn’t talk about, so instead she wrote them down. She had one English teacher in high school who became invested in her, with whom Brown says she is still friends.
LOL is for ladies of color who have a lot going on sometimes don’t have anyone to talk to, she says.
“We can use poetry as a tool for power and healing,” she says.
On a typical day, Brown says, the girls come in, do check-in, respond to a prompt on the board and share what they’ve written.
“For me, it’s all about helping them explore their identity — you are not just how other people see you,” she says. “Who do you want to be?”
And although she says she is a writer first, Brown says her method of teaching works.
“You don’t really see classes like this, girls only,” says Keiana Scott.
Scott, one of the ladies of literature, says being in this environment helped her get over a lot of her insecurities.
“You feel more comfortable sharing what you’re going through,” she says.
And Brown makes sure any an all issues can be on the table. Trouble at home, feeling isolated, relationships with friends or partners, self-esteem, identity, sex, anger.
Backlit by afternoon sunlight in the deserted cafeteria, LOL is rehearsing for their annual night of poetry, this year titled “It Ain’t Over Til the Poem is Preached.”
During practice, dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, the girls file up toward the microphone, clutching well-worn pieces of white paper in their hands.
“Redefine me,” begins one student, Toni Lynch, who smiles nervously.
“Slow down!” Brown says.
Lynch laughs and begins again.
“Everybody’s always stereotyping me. They don’t know everyday is a hard for a girl like me. What a girl like me goes through.”
The poems show a depth to these girls one might not otherwise see. The words are about love, loss and insecurities. Some girls read poems from other authors that have inspired them.
Ajah Fredzess says she wrote her poem “Ghetto Prince” after thinking about some of the chaos that happens in urban areas.
“It starts with one troubled mind and spreads,” she says.”One sane mind could make a difference.”
For Fredzess, being in LOL means she can use her imagination, which she happily says is akin to that of a 2-year-old’s.
“That’s the best thing about art, there’s always someone who isn’t going to like it,” she says, “but maybe that’s the purpose.”
First-year LOL member Lavonia Bobo even wrote a piece about the King of Pop, based on a prompt that asked, “Who is one of your favorite people?”
“I love the way he sings,” she says. “He cared about everybody.”
Bobo says before she came to LOL she never wrote, but being in a supported environment has brought it out in her.
“A lot of us find that we’re not the only ones going through this,” she says. ”I feel so special.”
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