At-Risk Teens Flourish in Experimental Poetry Program

Date Posted: 3/24/2016

ProjectCURATE’s Iconoclast program, sponsored in part by the Texas Annual Conference and St. Paul’s UMC, Houston, is turning troubled teens into published and performing poets who feel heard and affirmed in unique ways.
When it comes to Investing in the Young, Matthew H. Russell Ph.D. Executive Director of ProjectCURATE (Center for Urban Reconciliation and Theological Education) calls Sharpstown High School English teacher Faris Jabbar “a force of nature with the kids we are working with.” As one of Houston’s most notably disadvantaged schools, the successes are even more remrkable. CURATE’s Iconoclast Program sends renowned author, poet, speaker and activist Marlon Lizama into schools such as Sharpstown High, and youth lockdown facilities, to hold workshops on writing. He inspires students to express their stories through this medium – with life-changing impact.
Adds Farris, “Since we started our collaboration with Matt and Marlon, our students have been exposed to a myriad of powerful opportunities and experiences. They've primarily benefited from small group writing workshops with Marlon where they discuss a range of topics, including but not limited to: current events, philosophy, community issues, emotions, and perspective. These workshops have developed their critical thinking and writing skills and inspired some excellent compositions.”
 Although they were aware that some of their compositions would end up in an anthology, these students don't write with the intention of becoming famous, he explains, they write for the sake of art and expression. “They feel as though their voices are valued when Marlon comes and listens to their poetry and thoughts. To me, this is the heart of the program in addition to the improbable friendships and connections they've made through meeting with their peers from other schools and members of the community who show up to support their art,” shares Feris. “The extras of being published authors, receiving scholarships, and performing in front of hundreds at venues such as the Houston Museum of Fine Arts are simply icing on the cake. We're extremely fortunate to have made this connection with Matt and Marlon and our kids have been transformed in ways that can be seen through their poetry and performances, their outlook on the world, and their confidence in and out of the classroom.” 
Students share their powerful stories on video.

More Student Stories

Ripple Effect Extends Beyond Houston
A doctor with one of the Iconoclast student poetry anthologies recently shared this story with Matt, illustrating the far-reaching impact of this unique ministry. The email states that one of his Multiple Sclerosis patients in Cinncinatti developed a life-threatening case of pneumonia and ended up on a ventilator. While 99.9% of patients on ventilators are sedated for comfort purposes until their lungs recover, this particular patient was comfortable with very little sedation and wanted to be awake enough to text and write messages with his family who were at the bedside. The doctor shares, “I brought a book in, explained a bit of the background of how the anthology titled They Say and Iconoclast came together, and gave them a copy. When I returned, they had just read Lissette’s poem on page 41. The patient’s family was in awe and the patient, still with a breathing tube secured in his windpipe, put his hands up in a prayer position and wrote me a message saying, ‘This is amazing.’”

Adds the doctor, “Summary: You have your first intubated fan on a ventilator.”