In my first year as a 7th grade teacher, I learned a lot about the value of creative expression in the lives of the young people at my school. My fellow teacher, and Teach For America – San Antonio Corps Member, Adriana Abundis and I both noticed that our students seemed to want and need a consistent creative outlet to express their feelings and thoughts about day-to-day issues. Middle school can be an emotionally difficult time, to say the least, and we saw that artistic expression helps students deal with the pressures in their lives.
Adriana and I share a common passion for art and poetry. After visiting a local open mic night, we met local poet Christopher Martinez, who represents an organization called The Blah Blah Blah Poetry Spot. Christopher’s organization works with the community to promote artistic endeavors such as writing, performance, and literature. After telling Christopher our feelings about our students, he helped us organiz a program in which poets from the Blah Blah Blah Poetry Spot visit Irving once a week to hold writing workshops. They work with the students to create poetry, practice public speaking, build their creative minds, and foster confidence as they find their voices. Eventually, this writing workshop evolved into an open mic poetry night for our students.
Now, Irving Middle school students meet every Tuesday after school to respond to writing prompts, participate in creative brainstorming activities, and share their stories through poetry. They meet in preparation for the school’s monthly Open Mic series, which we hold on the last Wednesday of every month. Open Mic is a two-hour event where students, faculty, and community members are invited to share their stories in a safe and inclusive environment.
The evening opens with a half hour of live art and interactive projects, including collaborative artwork, freestyle sessions, and music. We then open up a list for anybody to sign up for time on the microphone. Open Mic is always free and open to all ages. The focus of the event is poetry, but we welcome all forms of art. Participants have let their voices be heard through short stories, rap, musical instruments, song, spoken word, and comedy.
At last week’s Open Mic, over 20 participants signed up to share their stories. In addition to the student performances, we also invited local musician Alex Rodriguez, or Young C, to bring a new level of energy to the microphone. Born and raised on the west side of San Antonio, Rodriquez shares his story through rap that promotes progressive life choices and rising above negative situations. He provided a wonderful example of leadership and a way to use art to create positive change in the community.
The goals of Irving’s Open Mic is to promote literacy and creativity, provide an outlet for personal expression, and create lasting social connections in our community with experiences that will benefit students for the rest of their lives. Middle school students live in a complicated world, and Open Mic is a chance for them to channel their creative energy and build confidence as young adults. We also believe that art-centered events like this can empower the people in our school’s neighborhoods to become engaged in the community, learn about local issues, share struggles, and create change. Open Mic provides a safe space for people to connect and work toward the SA2020 goal of making our neighborhoods connected, safe and vibrant.
As the current school year comes to a close, the Irving family is preparing for the final two shows. We’ve recently added a book drive and book give away to our Open Mic, as well as a youth poetry competition in which three winners receive cash prizes and gifts for their poems. Moving forward into next year, our goal is to build and promote the Open Mic throughout the community. Irving would love to see other middle and high schools to participate, and hopes to bring in more artists and poets from around San Antonio and Texas.
We would also like to invite the entire San Antonio community to come see and hear the inspirational work of these students. Our next Open Mic is Wednesday, April 30th at 5:30pm at Irving Middle School (1300 Delgado).