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How a group of artists are using poetry to help children in South Dallas

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King Shakur said writing poetry saved his life.

At 12, the South Dallas native was inspired by Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day” and the lyricism of his favorite rappers, so he decided to give it a shot.

“It wasn’t cool to write poetry so I wrote very little in school because I didn’t want people to be able to read what I wrote,” he said. “I was ashamed, but it was my outlet.”

In poetry, he found the tool he needed to face life’s challenges.

Now, at 43, Shakur uses that passion to help other black and brown students regulate their own emotions and heal through the arts.

Shakur is co-founder of the Art Inspired Healing Collective, a group of artists creating programs for students to teach them how to use art to learn more about themselves. The collective is part of the non-profit organization 2 Inspire Peace, which provides resources that encourage mindfulness. The other founders are Nikisha Patton, executive director of 2 Inspire Peace, and poet Jonathan “GNO” White.

The collective has partnered with the Dallas Public Library, cultural centers, and numerous school districts to provide arts education and workshops for students starting in third grade.

By the end of this school year, he plans to work with about 15 different schools in South Dallas County, including some in Cedar Hill, Lancaster and DeSoto.

Patton’s background is in education and she said children often don’t have a place where their views and feelings matter. These weekly workshops are a place where they can learn to use their own voice and express themselves.

She wants them to be able to ask, “If I’m on the street and I feel like this, how can I control myself in this situation?” What works best for me? ” she says.

Alongside the workshops, the collective also organizes festivals and open mics.

“Think about where you feel is the safest and most secure space you feel, and why that place makes you feel so safe. This is the standard we want to create in the room,” Shakur said, “When we build a workshop, we think about creating the safest space for each child to be truly their own.”

The collective focuses on South Dallas, an area that has limited access to mental health resources.

Shakur said the community in this area often doesn’t have a lot of conversations about mental health, and in his experience, black men are often told to suppress their emotions.

“It’s taboo to talk about mental health issues in our community,” he says. “Going to see a psychiatrist has always been a taboo. We go talk to Jesus, we do this or that. We don’t go to the psychiatrist to tell these people our business. I’m like, no, that’s not OK.

White had the same experience.

“We were told to get outside, get some fresh air and shake it up,” White said. “Now, as adults, we are trying to remedy that.”

White is an Oak Cliff native who gained a love of poetry from listening to recording artist Prince. His mother once gave him a tape and he quickly wrote down the lyrics to his favorite Prince songs. He read them to his friends like a poem.

He even once told a professor that he didn’t know Shakespeare, but Prince of Minneapolis is the real poet.

“We’ve heard of Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and EE Cummings, but they always bored me,” White said.

Workshops are created to meet students where they are. In the program “Hip Hop and Healing”, the leaders created programs based on songs and albums, including The bad education of Lauryn Hill“When Doves Cry” and Pimp a butterfly. The collective also uses the five elements of hip-hop – MCing, DJing, dance, graffiti and knowledge – and allows students to find their voice through these mediums.

Tyrone Crethers, 14, has taught and participated in programs through Art Inspired Healing. For him, music is his emotional outlet. His favorite genres are rap and country.

“Sometimes listening to music helps me focus and calm down,” Tyrone said. “I can’t really explain it.”

Tyrone, alongside other teenagers, learned to express themselves through music, dance and the visual arts. His mother, Anita Crethers, an artist and member of the collective herself, encourages art in her family because it is more than a coping mechanism, it is also a means of communication. For her, organization is more than just an art.

“It feels more like a family,” she said.

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