African-American middle school students sit at a table and write in notebooks

What demands the urgency of your pen?

“One of the most important things we have is storytelling,” Assistant Professor Gholnecsar Muhammad says. “Meaningful stories stay with us. They stick.”

She’s addressing a group of middle and high school students in the College of Education & Human Development’s Urban Literacy Collaborative and Clinic who are participating in Black Youth Write, a National Council of Teachers of English-funded workshop bringing local students to campus to practice their writing skills and explore issues facing black youth today.

For four weeks this summer, students learn about different genres of writing – protest poetry, public addresses, short stories, open letters and more – and read college-level multimodal texts showcasing black protest writers from the 1800s through the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They discuss their reactions to these texts and have opportunities every day to write on their own. They write to define their lives, resisting injustice in society and toward social change for all.

Muhammad, Garfield Bright, a CEHD doctoral student working in the clinic, and Rosa Mendez, an interdisciplinary studies undergraduate student, encourage participants to share their writing with the group and offer feedback to their peers.

“In here, they’re writing uncensored and unapologetically,” Muhammad said. “I ask them, ‘What demands the urgency of your pen?’ They write what they feel passionately about and they’re responsive to the times they’re living in. All you need to do is give them the space to write—to be bold and brilliant.”

Participants are a little shy about sharing their writing at first, but once one student raises a hand to share, others are quick to jump in. Their nuanced pieces on activism, advocacy and social change demonstrate a lot of thoughtful work on their part.

Amun Ra Jordan, a rising ninth grader, writes in his spare time but will often delete what he’s written for fear of it not being good enough for others to read. Now, after participating in Black Youth Write, he wants to keep his drafts and explore all the writing ideas that come to him.

“Here, you have the freedom to be yourself without any sort of criticism,” he said. “This is the best thing I’ve done this summer.”

To read some of the participants’ writing, visit http://byw2016.blogspot.com.