Urban Poets to Share Anthology of Insight and Inspiration

Date Posted: 4/27/2017

Student authors in the life-changing Iconoclast program (sponsored in part by the Texas Annual Conference) will share their artistic expressions on May 11.
Improbable friendships are one of the by-products of projectCURATE’s Iconoclast program that is active in seven urban schools and three juvenile detention centers in the Houston area. This artistic approach to self-expression is designed to interrupt the flow of the “school to prison pipeline” and it is changing lives on a regular basis.  
Iconoclast Artists, founded in 2014 by Marlon (Marley) Lizama, international artist, author, dancer and teacher, and by Matthew Russell, Ph.D., pastor, academic, activist, includes both an in-school writing program and an innovative curriculum as well as a performance program called Iconoclast Sessions. While projectCURATE is now a separate 50©3, Iconoclast grew out of St. Paul’s UMC, Houston and St. Paul’s continues to provide the soil and root system.
According to Executive Director Matt Russell, “Over 300 students – mostly immigrants -- gather in a dynamic learning environment to write poetry, short stories and to give voice to their rich and varied experiences. This setting cultivates poetic and literary awareness by focusing on writing, self-reflection and performance.”
The unique Iconoclast program provides academic, artistic and emotional support on a weekly basis to 300-400 under-resourced high school and middle school students. Adds Matt, “The improbable friendships that emerge through this program break through the boundaries of race, religion, socio-economics and ethnicity and allow the honest and inspiring voices of these talented urban poets to be heard.”
On Thursday, May 11 from 7pm - 9pm, Iconoclast Artists will host a free celebration event at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, near the TAC office, featuring live performances by the authors of They Say, Vol 2, a collection of important poetry by some of HISD’s most creative and talented minds.
The evening’s festivities will also include an introduction by MFAH’s Caroline Goeser, DJ Ill-Set and The museum’s exhibit, Adios Utopia:  Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950, which inspired some of the poems in this anthology. “All of the published poems give voice to the poets’ struggles and hardships in their daily lives,” shares project manager Jennifer Palomo, “and also to their internal reflections and contemplations, with an honesty and conviction that few people have the courage to communicate.”
The featured book of poetry is a part of a collective of Iconoclast Artists that are developing as writers, poets and artists. Shares Matt, “This is done through facilitated writing, performance workshops and a creative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum all of which is intended to nurture a deep sense of kinship between communities of varying economic and social divides. Additionally, community gatherings called Iconoclast Sessions make it possible for these students to perform their own original work surrounded by an audience of mentors, peers and the broader Houston community.”
During the monthly Sessions, spoken word poets are paired with academic poets and perform at free public events, building friendships among different communities and providing an opportunity for the youth poets to prepare for the bigger museum event.
Marley Lizama is thrilled that his students will have the opportunity to perform for a large crowd of people at the book release celebration on May 11th, where his students will be inspired by the recognition of their hard work.  “This is the big ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for our kids, when it finally hits them,” he says.  “The Museum event is so grand, so beautiful and so important that the impact on them is incredible. It says to them: you are worth it, your voice matters and we value your stories.”
Three Ways to Support this Life-Changing Initiative
Individuals are always needed to volunteer at schools, mentor students, invest in the scholarship fund, and buy the poetry anthologies.  Without this creative curriculum, students are more likely to be characterized as “at risk”, caught in the “school to prison pipeline” and in the vast population of “failing schools.” ProjectCURATE leaders are excited to change that story through this program. Matt says, “You will find these students committed to acts of courage each day as they rise in the morning with the noble purpose of defying a world that they know will not give them an equal opportunity. They challenge each other and those around them to find, develop and apply their voices as creators of societal change. All the while they are categorized by their skin color, zip code, parents’ education, and standardized tests.” Adds Matt, “These students constitute a powerful counter-narrative and are shifting the perception of their context by rising above isolation, alienation and silence and creating a true community of brave young voices. These brave young souls are instigating a conversation across all borders and few things are more healing and necessary.”