On a warm June day, eighteen 6th grade students from Alice Deal Middle School emerged from the McPherson Square metro station and spilled out onto the stretch of Pennsylvania avenue facing the White House. Each of them kept at the ready a single sheet of paper in their hands: their poems.
In spring 2018, the Pulitzer Center education team facilitated 30+ Fighting Words Poetry Workshops for over 800 students in DC, Maryland, and North Carolina. Meanwhile teachers led the workshop independently in their classrooms across the U.S. and at least three other countries. Students identified connections between poetry and journalism, considered both as tools for peacebuilding, and wrote poems in conversation with Pulitzer Center reporting projects. They were encouraged to submit their work to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest; winners’ and finalists’ poems are available to read on our website.
Each year, Deal Middle devotes the last day of classes to student-led community actions in a school-wide service event called Deal Gives Back. After participating in the Fighting Words Workshop, one group of 6th grade students decided to turn their words into a demonstration. In addition to using poetry to speak out about global issues and social injustices, they wanted to build a sense of inclusive community, engage with people they wouldn’t ordinarily meet, and practice journalistic skills. Students asked passersby questions about the issues on which their poems centered, ranging from LGBTQ+ rights to refugee resettlement to North Korean nuclear tensions. They asked interviewees to write down a short statement and photographed them holding it high; some of these photos appear in the video above.
While the class sparked conversations with tourists and DC locals, finding out what others had to say, the students took turns making their own views known, contributing a vital youth perspective to the dialogue on pressing global issues. They adjusted the mics pinned to their shirts, steadied their gaze into the camera, and made their voices heard.
Student poets featured:
Rebecca - Introduction
Francesca - "The Journey"
Inez - "Fleeing to Hell"
Giacomo - "Why?"
Ayan - "A Story of a Yemeni Mother"
Kate - "Endemic"
Sydney - "My Demon, Depression"
Jacopo - "Untitled"
Beatrix - "Surf"
Kinzly - "Sexual Assault"
Other student participants:
Coordination: Thanks to Monica Shah and Elizabeth Smiley for organizing and leading the project at Deal Middle School.
Video: Thanks to Lorraine Ustaris for filming, Alyssa Sperrazza and Kayla Sharpe for shooting b-roll, and Kayla Sharpe for editing.