CLEVELAND — What does it mean to see a face, or hear a voice like yours from a classroom? How important is it to develop leaders that don't often get seats at the table? For a mentor of mine, Daniel Gray-Kontar, it’s of the utmost importance; and it’s also the mission of his organization, Twelve Literary Arts.
"I think that we are developing a really incredible group of teaching artists of color. And that is rare," Gray-Kontar said. "We may be the only teachers of color that a lot of students interface with during the school year. We may be it."
Gray-Kontar first founded the program four years ago.
"We go into different classrooms and expose poetry to youth in the schools," he said. "But while we are in those schools, we are constantly on the lookout for what we call orchids, those young people who are really thoughtful, really reflective, and may not have emerged as leaders, but you can tell there is something in there. And we invite them here."
A renovated home in the Glenville neighborhood has become the new base for Twelve Literary Arts, and for community members who may not have a space to express themselves, Twelve can be seen as home.
"Home doesn't necessarily look like maybe the place you pay rent at. But just wherever you feel safe. I think, creating a space that feels warm. I love when you walk in, there's colors and pictures and things like that." said Stephanie Ginese, Director of Programs in Residence.
And some, like former student Raja Bell Freeman, take the skills that they learned and pay it forward.
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"I ended up on the youth poetry slam team, and then Daniel took me in as an intern, and I've been working with the program ever since," she said.
"What we're really interested in, is developing future writers, of course, and also future leaders, future teachers. We are developing a voice to speak through to a city councilperson, and to city planners, and to architects. They're developing that voice about what their neighborhood should look like," Gray-Kontar said.
"I am very much ultimately looking at youth orchids across this country, bringing them to Cleveland, and this being sort of a literary arts boarding school."
Whether it be poetry, journalism, storytelling, or any other forms of written expression, the future for Twelve Literary Arts is endless.