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Stages, Sights & Sounds Blog

I am . . .

I am ambitious and intelligent . . .

I see superheroes flying to the rescue . . .

I worry if I'm good enough for this world . . .

On Wednesday, May 8 at 5 pm in the afternoon, I had the privilege of accompanying Paige Hernandez to the Better Boys Foundation in North Lawndale for a performance workshop. Paige was in the middle of her run of performances of Paige in Full at the Museum of Contemporary Art, one of six programs CHF presented this year in our Stages, Sights & Sounds festival. Paige led 20 kids through an inspiring 90 minute creative process.

First, the kids made a graffiti banner that would later serve as a backdrop for their spoken word performances.

All photos are by Aubrey Boonstra.

Then Paige gave the kids a series of movement challenges that required them to work together without speaking. This was a hard one for many of the middle and high schoolers. Remember how hard it was not to talk at that age!


After working in their bodies for a while, the group moved to tables where Paige led them through a self-reflecting and writing process—the “I am . . .” poem. Paige walked the students through a prescribed structure that helped the kids give voice to their pride, their dreams, and their fears.

In several instances, Paige encouraged them to use their imaginations, to not be hindered by the realities they knew. But she wasn’t asking them to deny those realities, and she worked closely with many of the kids to find an honest way of articulating their thoughts.

When they were finished, several of the kids read their poems (or traded them and read one written by a friend) in front of the graffiti banner they’d created earlier.

Five of the finished poems are posted below. 

CHF has been building a strong relationship with the Better Boys Foundation (BBF) over the last year, since their Director of Program Development and Evaluation Wayne Stiles joined our Education Ambassadors advisory group. BBF offers early childhood programs as well as fully and powerfully realized afterschool and summer enrichment programs for elementary and high school students and maintains relationships with students into their post-secondary years. In the last year, BBF students have attended Stages, Sights & Sounds performances and CHF’s program with artist Kara Walker at the Art Institute in February and Wayne was part of our 2012 Summer Institute for Teachers. (SIT 2013 is coming up in July. Registration opened yesterday!)

And just to be clear, BBF is non-discriminatory—there are lots of girls involved in their programs, too. The name is a holdover from when the organization was founded in 1961 as a boxing gym for youth (which back then meant boys).


I am . . . poems by the boys AND girls of the LitLAB at the Better Boys Foundation

I am T. Little
(age 17)

I am black and proud.
I wonder will I graduate out of college.
I see many different potential faces.
I am black, intelligent and proud. 

I pretend I’m the President.
I feel like a boss.
I worry many African Americans won’t make it out of high school.
I don’t cry!
I am black and proud.

I understand this world comes with many trials and tribulations.
I dream of never dying and never aging.
I try to stay positive and focused on my goals.
I hope I get rich, and prosper a lot.
I am black and proud.


I am . . .
(by Michael Koleosho, age 13)

I am intelligent and shy.
I wonder if there is life anywhere else than Earth.
I see superheroes flying to the rescue.
I am intelligent and shy.

I pretend that I am the only person in the world.
I feel happy when I am playing football.
I worry if I will make it to school and back.
I cry when I am sad.
I am intelligent and shy.

I understand that money does not grow on trees.
I dream of going off to college to attend the University of Alabama.
I try to stay focused.
I hope I accomplish all my dreams.
I am intelligent and shy.


I am Valerie
(by Valerie Gipson, age 14)

I am ambitious and intelligent.
I wonder what the doctor’s name is.
I see the Gallifreyan sky.
I am ambitious and intelligent.

I pretend I am a companion.
I feel everything.
I worry about my algebra exit exam.
I cry every time I hear Nicki Minaj’s voice.
I am ambitious and intelligent.

I understand actions are only repeated.
I dream of strange things.
I try to be empathetic.
I hope to become a radiologist.


I am Simone
(by Simone Gipson, age 17)

I am compassionate and understanding.
I wonder if I’ll see tomorrow.
I see nothing but violence and hungry faces.
I am compassionate and understanding.

I pretend everyday isn’t the struggle it really is.
I feel that children have no one to look up to.
I worry if I’m good enough for this world.
I cry when I hear the name Ed Sheeran.
I am compassionate and understanding.

I understand that everyone isn’t as privileged as me.
I dream of a world where we support one another.
I try to do my best.
I hope those lonely children with starving bellies will one day be filled.
I am compassionate and understanding.


I am Victoria
(by Victoria Gipson, age 16)

I am hopeful and strong.
I wonder if people think I’m a success.
I see unhappy kids.
I am pretty and tall.

I pretend to do well.
I feel sick and tired.
I worry about my self-image.
I cry when I can’t say what I want.
I am hopeful and strong.

I understand the ununderstandable.
I dream that things will go wrong.
I try to be honest.
I hope for good things to come even to bad people.
I am hopeful and strong.





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