Entering my second year as a Write On, Speak Out! (WOSO) spokenword mentor, I've realized some things. I never in a million years would have imagined 14-18 year olds to be as fearless as they are, and so aware. They take chances I never would have at that age, no matter how deeply convicted. I thought my role would be in bringing my mentees along. Encouragement. Guidance. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, teens aren’t saints all the time, but our WOSO mentees have some real wisdom, and they are eager to exercise it given the slightest opportunity. Witnessing this over the past two years has convinced me that teens in general are wrongly accused of not caring about the world. And perhaps the reason we generalize that teens don’t care is because we haven’t really been listening. Like it or not, they are telling us every day what they want, need, feel, and expect.
Each one of my mentees this year, without prompting, has cited the need for fresh new voices to speak to the trying social issues of our time, and has set a goal to develop spokenword pieces that can be that voice. Most of them can’t vote yet, they aren’t the heads of their own households; as spokenword artists through the WOSO program, they finally have a “captive audience” and a unique opportunity to express themselves in a safe, supportive environment. Not one in which they are not being told what to think, but asked for their unfiltered opinions. Used strategically, spokenword is an accessible tool they can use to share their thoughts in a creative and effective way.