Open Minds, Open Doors

For National Poetry Month, we’re excited to share “A Place of Hope”by Ezzaddin A., a poem written during a recent collaboration between our field exchange students and Open DoorsReality Poets.  Open Doors is a network of artists, activists and advocates motivated by community building, gun violence prevention, and disability rights. With support from educators and N4 Master Practitioners Lillian de Jesus and Mary Slone, students from University Heights High School in the Bronx, NY and Floyd County High School in Langley, Kentucky, participated in a three-week workshop where they were paired with a Reality Poets partner.

N4’s Director of Global Programs Lee Keylock explains, “The field exchange is a place where empathy and action intersect. We arrive as strangers and leave as brothers and sisters. We walk towards one another. We listen to one another, we are touched by stories, we feel the joy and the pain of every life, and we support each other. Our open hearts and collective wisdom makes hope happen.”

UHHS student Ezzaddin A. and his poetic partner, Revolt, discussed their experience.


Ezzaddin A., UHHS student

N4: How did you get involved with Narrative 4?
EA:  I’m from an Arabic background, I was taught at a young age that as a man, I should not be empathic, that I should not cry or be ‘soft’. So when offered the opportunity to join Narrative 4 last year, I declined and thought that “empathy and storytelling were not for me”. After the pandemic started, many students experienced anxiety and stress. In a club I participate in called Gentlemen’s Club, my mentors tried to solve that problem by having weekly meetings where we share our thoughts and ideas around what’s happening in a safe, judgment-free space. At first, this was very difficult for many of us, early meetings used to be quiet, but afterward we became comfortable sharing our thoughts. The conversations became more engaging and we always ran out of time. And the conversations weren’t around thoughts anymore, all of us started incorporating stories into our conversations as examples which allowed us to find connections with each other that we thought were never possible. We started becoming more relieved and comfortable because we had someone to speak to and were not afraid of being judged. So when offered the chance to join Narrative 4 again this year, I knew better than to skip such a valuable opportunity. With the few meetings I have had with Narrative 4, I have become more comfortable and I have become more open-minded.

N4: Tell us about your experience working with the Open Doors’ Reality Poets at Coler. 
EA: What was the inspiration for your poem? Tell us about the process of writing it. 
Working with the poets from Open Doors was very inspiring. The poems performed by the Open Doors poets helped us connect with each other and understand where we come from. These poems also helped inspire our own poems. Whether some of us grew up in New York or Kentucky, we all felt a connection in every poem presented. When the poems were presented, there was an energy in the Zoom call that can’t be described by words. Using the poems presented by the poets in Open Doors, I decided to write a poem that reflected my feelings and thoughts of the place I grew up in. I wrote about how the beautiful place I once saw as heaven suddenly became hell and how, although I no longer live in that place, I still have a very strong connection with it. Another poem that inspired my style was “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

N4: What was the most memorable part of your collaboration with Revolt?
EA: There are two memorable moments from my collaboration with Revolt. The first moment was listening to Revolt’s poem. This was a very memorable moment not just for me but for the entire group. Revolt’s poem and his style of reading made it very hard for us to forget that day. One of my favorite lines from Revolt’s poem is, “I’m from the place other people dream about but don’t know what they’re missing.” The other memorable moment is hearing Revolt read my poem. This was memorable because I got to see how my poem sounds and how others express my poem. This is also memorable because Revolt is an amazing poet who has an incredible voice and it was an honor hearing my poem read by someone like him.

N4: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
EA: I never thought I would say this before joining Narrative 4 but, writing and storytelling is a powerful tool that we can use to help others and make major changes in our world. If we look at human history, we see the thing that survived and helped us understand our history is writing and storytelling.

Read “A Place of Hope” and watch Ezzaddin’s poem come to life in this stunning video created by Hasadri Freeman


Revolt: poet, hip hop artist, vocalist, activist, and Open Doors member

N4: When did you first start writing poetry? Why?
Revolt: I first started around 11 or 12 years old, in middle school. Back in those days, people used to share a lot of art and poetry on a website called Myspace.  This was before anything was even called “social media.”  It was an awesome community, that is difficult to describe to the current generation. This was a time when you were not suffocated in ads, manipulated by feeds, “recommendations,” politics, data mining, strict word-limits, and “attention engineers” exploiting your every click.  It was an open-hearted place where a lot of people shared very vulnerable stories through poetry and art. I’m sure this had a big impact on me to start writing. It was also a kind of therapy, definitely an outlet for me to process all the abuse I was experiencing at home.

N4: How did you get involved with Narrative 4?
Revolt: Through Open Doors. I go to their weekly meetings on Zoom and when Dexter announced there would be a poetry share with youth around the country, I was down.

N4: Tell us about your experience working with the Open Doors’ Reality Poets.
Revolt: Open Doors is the bomb. I’m a huge fan of the Reality Poets and the messages and personal stories that they share. Here on the West Coast, we have nothing analogous to it. The Reality Poets live up to their title: raw, unfiltered, smack-you-in-the-face reality. There is a strong antiviolence message, and a strong youth leadership focus, neither of which come across as the common paternal condescending stuff.  It’s all rooted in authentic harm-reduction, OG life lessons, and generational care.

N4: What was the most memorable part of your collaboration with Ezzaddin?
Revolt: Definitely hearing his poem for the first time. I was blown away. When I look back on some of my high school poetry, I used to think it was pretty good.  But I wasn’t writing anything at the level of what Ezzaddin shared.  I’m not just talking about the style or structure of the work either, both of which are excellent.  The emotion of the experience is completely immersive through his words, and much like the Reality Poets, it’s not attempting to manipulate a specific response. It’s a sort of “direct to the source” facts of reality.  The best kind of poetry, in my opinion.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Revolt: Please support emerging artists. It’s really easy to look at a song or poem someone wrote professionally after 20 years of practice and say, “Ah, that’s great!” It’s a whole different thing when someone is just starting out, or cutting their teeth on the craft, and need guidance and support. Remember, all our great artists come from somewhere, and many of the world’s most gifted artists and poets will never be known, because no one believed in them when they needed it most.

Check out more of Revolt’s work at www.revoltrightnow.com

Tomorrow's leaders must learn empathy today.

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