Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Soul of the City at the Department of Human Services


The Humanities Council's Soul of the City program gives young people valuable leadership and communications skills using the humanities disciplines and the city of Washington, DC as teaching tools. This year's participants were the Summer Youth Employment Program employees at the DC Department of Human Services. The program was facilitated by a local poet, spoken word artist, and motivational Speaker Kavon Ward, and two dedicated interns from the University of California DC semester program. This post was written by one of the intern facilitators, recapping SOTC, and his own experiences leading the group.

By Barrett Doo

Looking back, this year’s Soul of the City was a major success not just because of the noticeable impact it had on the program’s participants, but because of what I got out of it as well. The theme of this year’s Soul of the City was “past and present challenges to obtaining equal citizenship.” Using that lens, we were able to create a program that was highly inspiring and exceptionally enjoyable. After the first week it was clear we had a dedicated group of students that were eager to learn and ready to be challenged. It was truly a pleasure getting to know this group over the course of the program and they helped make my summer a memorable one.

Our first field trip was to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I had personally put off visiting this museum on my own time knowing that I would be coming with the program. It was certainly a pleasure to tell my roommates later that I spent all day at a museum while they sat at a desk answering phone calls. Although Soul of the City is about the students, I began to realize on this trip just how much I would be learning as well.  The “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” exhibit that we toured was fascinating, and something that I admittedly knew very little about. It was gratifying to see many of the students were engaged and asking the same questions that I too was wondering about. The highlight of the day was our chance encounter with an impromptu performance and recreation of the Greensboro civil rights sit-ins, in which one of the students got to portray one of the activists!

Participants at a Spoken Word Workshop at the Department
Of Human Services
Empowerment through spoken word was another major theme of the program, and the students  got the chance to observe professionals in the art. These poets served as role models and showed the students the direct results of hard work and determination. I’ll be the first to admit that I was as captivated as they were by each performance. A fictional skit that re-imagined a conversation between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. took the entire room back to the Civil Rights movements of the sixties, stressing each leader’s different approach towards achieving the same goal. Local poet I-Empress came in and delivered a number of awe-inspiring poems she had written based on subjects that all of the students could relate to, including one aptly titled, “Adolescent Lessons.” However, no speaker captivated the students more than their very own program coordinator, Kavon Ward, whose deeply moving poem about Trayvon Martin became the highlight of the entire program, returning for numerous encores.

Other program field trips that I felt absolutely privileged to participate in were our trips to DCTV and WPFW. While transporting a big group of students to each location was a challenge, the end result was more than rewarding. Seeing real television and radio stations in action was fascinating, and not only did the DJ at WPFW give a shout out to Soul of the City, but a documentary showcasing the program will later be featured on DCTV!

Our last field trip was to our nation’s capitol, where afterwards the students were able to meet with Washington, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Although the meeting was brief, it allowed the participants to see that there are people working towards creating the legal equality they had been learning about throughout the program. The opportunity to actually meet DC’s lone representative was a truly monumental moment. 

The awards ceremony at the end of the program was admittedly bittersweet, but watching the students speak and present on what they had learned over the course of the program was profoundly satisfying. Since I had been there every step of the way, hearing the participants talk about how much they had grown was really rewarding, and an acknowledgment that they had had just as great of an experience as I did. 

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