Their words are confident. Their vision is clear. In Oakland's Citywide Poetry Anthology II; Voices of the Future, Oakland high school students graduating this June express their dreams and hopes in poetry.In robust language, they talk about the obstacles they’ve faced, including violence and low expectations. However, they are determined to defy the odds.
“To not look back from the place I once came
To ensure my future in this hard place
Where bullets rain and a life could end
“Statistics say I won’t make it half way
I’ll prove this wrong with a degree
And I will show you who I can be
“A woman, a Latino
I don’t care what you think
I will walk that stage and earn my college degree,”
from My Say Not Yours, by Margarita Amaya from Oakland Technical High School.
The book, published in November, is a joint project of Project SOAR II and Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Project SOAR is a college readiness program run by the California State University East Bay Foundation and funded by the U.S Department of Education’s GEAR UP Initiative which prepares low income students to succeed in college. “The poems are really powerful,” said Shareen Ram, the partnership liaison for Project SOAR II and chair of the poetry anthology committee. “A lot of us are very proud of the students putting together something that expresses their intentions for their futures in that way.”Ram said it was an important exercise for students to visualize their futures. It took more than a little coaxing.“Getting the students to participate was the hardest part of the project,” she said. The project staff members involved English teachers who allowed students to write poetry in their classes. They recruited individual students and sent home letters and flyers, a couple of times.
Once the students wrote their poems, they had to prepare to recite them in front of a panel of judges.“It took a lot of courage to stand up there,” Ram said. “Initially they were really nervous.” They had practice readings. Over time, the staff could see the students gaining confidence. At the May contest, judges chose 10 top winners, but the poems of 153 students are included in the book. Famed musician Carlos Santana wrote the forward. For 11 students, this is the second time they have been published. In 2008, when they were in the eighth grade, Project SOAR and Barnes and Noble published Oakland's Citywide Poetry Anthology: Voices from the Middle, reflections of their day to day life. However, Ram said this is the last year of the federal grant funding the project.
“I am truly honored to lead the project. We’re hoping the project will inspire other organizations to do similar things,” she said. Barnes and Noble will host a book release party for Voices of the Future, Saturday, Feb. 12, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Emeryville, 5604 Bay St. Students will be on hand to autograph copies of the book.
“Golden is my spirit
Golden is my life
Golden is my inspiration
Golden is my strife
Golden are the hands that push me to be strong
Keep me on my way
Keep me in the song.”
from Golden by Kenya Ann Hall from Oakland Technical High School.
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