I’m tired of fearing the walk down to the registrar
like paying your tuition with rows of quarters and socks of change
isn’t as cool as the flick of your pen to sign your name on them dotted lines
when the only lines I’m familiar with are the ones outside the pantry
I’m tired of 125th street being the borderline between the haves and have nots
tired of who I am being where I’m from
like somehow my worth isn’t worth
I’m sick and I’m tired
I’m tired of being sick and tired of being
— Anthony Pittman, Karina Sanchez, and Pearl Quick
If you dig poetry, and own a computer (and who am I kidding, that’s probably everybody reading this post), then you might consider checking out the documentary To Be Heard on Hulu for free here. The doc tells the stories of three high school students from the Bronx who are part of a writing club at their high school called Power Writers.
Power Writers employs the motto that “if you don’t learn to write your own life story, then someone else will write it for you.” According to its website, it’s an organization that empowers youth through the mastery of language and cultural literacy.
And it provides a kick in the ass of our three protagonists. The three — Anthony Pittman, Karina Sanchez, and Pearl Quick — are best friends and call themselves “The Tripod.” All three of them are spoken word talents, but they all have challenges at home, more so than you average high school kid. They all come from single parent, low-income homes and each live in a high crime area.
Writing for these kids is more than a hobby: it’s a lifeline and potentially a way out of their circumstances.
And yes all of them have a story worth watching unfold on the screen.
My favorite is Pearl, a really sweet, bright girl battling a self-image problem who so badly wants to go to Sarah Lawrence, she ends up crying after sending in her college application. More than the other two kids, she really takes to their trip to Walden Pond in Massachusetts, and after reading aloud the famous Thoreau quote (“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”), says simply, “that’s really tight.”
Then she reflects: “Some days when I didn’t want to be in someone else’s world, I’d write my own because that’s where I was most safe, where no one made fun of me. And that’s where I was treated right. So whenever I wrote about a girl, she would be slim and she would be great and people would love her. I feel like for other people they can mess up and have daddy and mommy bail them out. I don’t have that. I can’t mess up or I’ll end up what everyone expects someone from the hood to become…I think it’s time to be just a little bit different, and I’m working towards a better me.”
I think many, many writers can relate to the first half of this quote, the other half of the quote probably not so much. And that’s what makes these kids compelling to writers like myself and probably some of you. On one hand (speaking economically here) their stories are totally unique if you were raised in a middle class household, and yet in another sense their experience is universal for anyone who has ever wielded a pen for comfort and pleasure.