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Artists create work inspired by students' poems with America SCORES Cleveland

In 1994, a public school teacher from Washington, D.C., wanted to create meaningful activities for her students to engage in after school. Julie Kennedy turned to her two passions: soccer and poetry.

This led to the founding of America SCORES, a program that has branched out to eleven cities across the United States, including a chapter in Northeast Ohio.

Angela Reynoso is a fifth grader at Warner Girls Leadership Academy and said the soccer element of America SCORES is what initially drew her to the program, but she made a connection with so much more.

“If I had never joined soccer, I think I would be writing poetry only for assignments,” Reynoso said. “But now, I think about poetry all day, every day.”

Special events throughout the year, such as an annual poetry slam, give additional opportunities for students to express themselves through writing, performing and growing a stronger bond with the community.

Every other year, America SCORES connects its poet-athletes with the local arts community in a collaboration called Inspired Art.

“The local artists pick poems that the poet-athletes have written throughout the year and then they bring that poem to life,” said Alison Black, executive director of America SCORES Cleveland. “It’s a great way for our kids to see how impactful their words can be and how someone else might interpret their own words."

Two Northeast Ohio artists chose a poem written by Reynoso titled “We Are Sisters,” which speaks to the friendship and bonds between women.

 Angela Reynoso's poem "We Are Sisters"
America SCORES Cleveland
"Since I go to an all-girls school, we are always told that like you may not be sisters by blood and you may not be related, but you're still sisters," fifth grader Angela Reynoso said. "You go to the same school, you're in the same class, you're friends."

LaSaundra Robinson is a painter who works out of Artful Studios in Cleveland Heights and created a work inspired by Reynoso’s poem.

“I don’t have any sisters, but I do have close friends,” she said. “And one of my close friends is like my sister, so I feel that connection, that bond, and I think that’s what was calling in that poem.”

 LaSaundra Robinson's painting is titled "I Got You."
LaSaundra Robinson
America SCORES Cleveland
LaSaundra Robinson's painting is titled "I Got You." She said, "I think it’s really important for kids to have opportunity to really express themselves, and I think if you ever go through and read the poems, you see that they really work on and tackle what's going on in their life."

Diane Fleisch Hughes, whose studio is located within Stella’s Art Gallery in Willoughby, said Reynoso’s poem brought to mind the relationship she has with her sisters.

“I also have two daughters who are very close, but I also felt that it kind of portrayed a sisterhood of friends or teammates,” she said. “I wanted to do something that conveyed the feeling that sisterhood could be among any group of women.”

Diane Fleisch Hughes named her work "Sisterhood."
Diane Fleisch Hughes
America SCORES Cleveland
Diane Fleisch Hughes named her work "Sisterhood." As a professor at Ursuline College in the graduate art therapy and counseling program, she took a group of graduate students on a service learning trip to Nepal and snapped a picture of them at the end of the trip. "The layout, how they were sitting, just kind of really spoke to me, and I thought, 'Well, that's sisterhood right there.'"

This year’s Inspired Art will be on display at a benefit Saturday, June 3, at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland. The poet-athletes will be seeing the artworks inspired by their poetry for the first time at the event.

"Seeing the children see what was created based on their words is just phenomenal," said Ruth Coffey, advisory board member for America SCORES Cleveland and co-founder of Inspired Art.

Reynoso is looking forward to seeing the artists’ interpretation of her poem.

“I’m honored,” she said. “I feel like I am a sense of inspiration. My purpose is more than to just read poems and write them and play soccer. I feel like my purpose is to inspire people and help them be more creative themselves.”

The America SCORES mission

At the heart of America SCORES – and Inspired Art – is showing the poet-athletes that self-expression can be celebrated and that their voices are being heard.

America SCORES Cleveland started in 2004 and has grown over the years. Alison Black said they work with “16 schools serving about 750 kids in the afterschool space and about 2,000 kids each year through all of our other programming.”

America SCORES works in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and participating schools to identify students who could benefit most from the organization’s programming, which aims to serve underprivileged areas of the city.

The soccer component of America SCORES not only teaches teamwork and leadership but also the value of exercising and being healthy. The poetry component taps into creative writing and literacy and the importance of being an engaged student.

The final piece is service learning – teaching stewardship and taking care of the community.

“Everything we do – soccer, creative writing, service learning – is all about them, learning about who they are, who their community is, being a team, being part of their school and wanting to do better in the community for themselves,” Black said.

 America SCORES founder Julie Kennedy.
America SCORES
America SCORES founder Julie Kennedy.

Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.