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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Jacob Goes To Camp: How Project Jericho Helped One Young Man Discover Poetry

Dan Gummel
Jacob reads his poem at Project Jericho's culminating concert

This summer Project Jericho, a non-profit housed at Clark State in Springfield, hosted a free arts camp for local youth. They hired professional artists from around the country to teach. Young people wrote poetry which they performed in a public concert emceed by Amena Brown, a nationally-known slam poet. For Culture Couch, WYSO Community Voices producer Dan Gummel has the story of one young man’s experience at the camp.

I walk into a room at the Kuss Auditorium in Springfield full of teenagers working together, listening to music, and then I see this kid named Jacob.  He seems to be the proverbial kid who always hates camp; he’s sitting by himself shoulders slumped and head down over by the speakers.   I asked him if he wanted to come to camp?  I got a terse, “No I didn’t want to” in response.

Jacob is having a hard time finding things at camp he likes.  He tried mosaic creating with professional artist Gail Christofferson, but that didn’t really work.  Book making was a little better but still not great.   

 But things started to change for him halfway through the camp when Amena Brown, the professional slam poet from Atlanta, showed up to lead the kids through a workshop on performance skills, and when she started talking about the poetry of legendary artist Tupac Shakur, she got Jacob’s attention.

Amena said she liked working with young people, “I think it was interesting to hear how insightful some of [the campers'] comments were, and that it was fun.”

After the workshop with Amena, Jacob seemed almost happy.  I asked him what the difference was, he said “poetry.”   But he was still  freaked out because he knew he still has to perform his poem at the public concert Friday.   He said he felt nervous.

Credit Dan Gummel / WYSO
Poet Amena Brown and Jacob

Jacob went home and practiced his poem in front of the mirror, just like Amena had told him.  He practiced his confidence, his pronunciation and his smile, and Friday afternoon when it came time for the big performance, he was ready. Amena introduced him to the audience, and then he stepped up to the microphone and read his original poem entitled “Home.”

Home.  Where I sleep.
Where I eat.
But the comforts that come with home is no where to be found.
Why? I shout.
How can you be home, but far from it at the same time?
Time multiplies when I’m far but is short when I’m close.
The distance between is answer and key.
But why?
I ask why.

Afterwards Jacob told me about his poem. "Me being in foster care inspired it,” he said.  “It’s about me being far away from home.  Like in my foster care.  That’s my home right now, but yet it’s not my home, I’m far from home.  My home is with my mom.  That’s what I mean by it.”  

I left at the end of the week thinking that poetry wins again, and in the best way, if I’m honest because you really have to root for kids like Jacob.  They’ve got a lot to think about, and when a simple trip to summer camp becomes a discovery of who you can be and awakens new love of poetry, maybe that’s best part.

Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series about arts in the Miami Valley. It's made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.