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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Help My Mom Make Some Really Relevant Poetry-Support Her Indiegogo Campaign



Writer Octavia McBride-Ahebee


My mother, writer Octavia McBride-Ahebee, has been selected to participate in the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, which will be held this fall in London. Callaloo, a Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters based in Texas A&M University, is ranked as one of the top literary journals in the United States and is edited by the Charles Henry Rowell. 

The workshop facilitators include novelist, essayist and Princeton Lecturer Maaza Mengiste, whose book Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is an international bestseller, and famed poet and Columbia University teaching fellow Gregory Pardlo.
My mom is currently working on a series of poems addressing the current Ebola crisis and the human stories behind this global failure. She would love the opportunity to workshop these poems with the dedicated and experienced Callaloo facilitators. She has started a Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to cover the costs of this trip. Please support this effort.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The 2014 Young Heroes Award by Sojourner Ahebee



     Hey all! I know it’s been a while, but I wanted to take a few moments to give a shout out to a very special organization. A few years ago I was given the honor of being named a Young Hero by the National Liberty Museum. It was so inspiring to be recognized, at such a young age, for my efforts within my community, so I encourage young people all over the country to look into this fabulous opportunity. Please read the following information, and visit the link at the end for more context. Thank you all!


For 13 years the National Liberty Museum has recognized young people who have championed freedom and liberty through their actions. All too often the efforts of our young people to make a positive impact gets overlooked. Through our Young Heroes Award we are able to recognize young people who have taken action where liberty is lacking to promote positive social change. Students have done this through their civic engagement, encouraging peaceful resolutions to conflict, promoting tolerance and diversity and demonstrating leadership.


                                              "Flame of Liberty" by Dale Chihuly.


     We are currently accepting nominations for the 2014 Young Heroes Award sponsored by TD Bank now through June 30th, 2014.

     To download a nomination form or to submit a nomination through our online form, please go to https://libertymuseum.org/liberty-institute/awards/heroes/

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee Meets Mighty Writers

Sojourner Ahebee standing in front of the Mighty Writers location in West Philadelphia.

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit the Mighty Writers in West Philadelphia and meet some amazing young writers and the adults who mentor and inspire them.  Mighty Writers is an organization dedicated to helping students think and write clearly and using these skills to find success in school and life.  

Mighty Writers Teen Scholars













I  shared with these teen scholars, who come to Mighty Writers afterschool, my journey as a writer, information about the  Scholastic Art and Writing  Awards http://www.artandwriting.org/about-us/    and the National Student Poets Program  http://www.artandwriting.org/the-awards/national-student-poets-program/.  I also read some of my poetry and answered questions.  But the best part of the evening for me was talking one on one with these talented students and reading some of their work.  

Sojourner reading from NSPP chapbook
I have to give a huge shout-out to Annette John-Hall, the highly lauded former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, who is now the director of the Mighty Writers West Philadelphia site.  She organized my visit and I was so warmly received.
Here is a great link to Ms. John-Hall and some teen scholars in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AA9qYc8tXlQ

National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee and Annette John-Hall,  Program Director of Mighty Writers West 
Again, I want to thank the entire staff of Mighty Writers for not only welcoming me, but for the important work that they do with young people.  To learn more about the Mighty Writers program, which has two locations, click here:   http://www.mightywriters.org/west-philly-academy/

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Wish You A Poem For Your Troubles: Alzheimer's Poetry Workshop by Sojourner Ahebee

National Student Poet, Sojourner Ahebee
About a month ago I had the chance to reconnect with old memories. How, you ask? Alzheimer’s poetry workshop, I say. On a cold February afternoon, the time of year the snow takes over in Northern Michigan, the time of year you stop believing in magic, Mickayla Noel and Eleanor Rudnitsky-Brown, my fellow writers, and I visited a nursing home ten minutes away from my school to facilitate a poetry workshop with the residents. On our ride to the home, all of our stomachs were bursting with butterflies. We were going into unknown territory, and that scared us. 

When we arrived, some of the residents were already situated in the common area, with the February light pouring into the room as I and my group members unpacked our poems. Some of the residents were being pushed in on wheel chairs as well, their faces searching our eyes like you would a stranger. I then proceeded to walk into the middle of the room and introduce myself. We then went around the room and asked the residents to say their names for us. A woman on the far right in a blue pullover told us her name was Irene. I responded with “that’s a beautiful name. I have a friend named Irene.” Her smile illuminated the very room we stood in. As we continued around the room with introductions, it was evident that these residents were in different stages of the disease. The early-stage patients were able to make eye contact and respond to questions quite quickly. Some of the later-stage patients had their heads down to the point that I couldn't even see their eyes. One woman in particular had her head drooping into her lap, but when I went over and held her hand while asking her name, she focused her eyes on me and smiled, whispering her name softly.

I started the workshop with Billy Collins’ poem entitled “Forgetfulness”. This involved a call-and-response technique. I would read a line of the poem and then ask the residents to repeat the line back as a means for them to both play with language and to exercise memory. This exercise got off to a rocky start. The residents were shy and had trouble jumping in. But, as we progressed through the poem and they became more familiar with their poetic voices, they were more readily able to feed the lines back to me. In no time the residents were reciting not only the Collins' poem but the poems of Robert Hayden and Wilfred Owen . Some did so quietly in hushed whispers, while others filled the room loudly with the words of these poets. 

This experience was so powerful. Not only because of the memory aspect, but because we were working together to uncover language, to uncover narrative, and most importantly, to uncover the power of the human voice. This was an exchange in which both the residents and my group and I were making a conscious attempt to understand each other.


After the reading and reciting  about five poems, my group and I moved on to our final exercise: the writing of a collaborative poem. I assigned Mickayla the job of being the scribe for this exercise. When we were ready to start, Mickayla collected her huge white pad and sharpie and proceeded to position herself in the middle of the common room so she could better listen to what the residents would have to say. I then explained to the patients that we were going to attempt to write a “Where I’m From” poem. The task appeared daunting at first, but they went along. I started with simple questions like “where was your first home?” and “what was your hometown known for?” As the dialogue progressed, together we began to uncover the history and narratives that the residents had carried with them for quite some time. As we went along, they told me the names of their childhood dogs, their favorite plants, family traditions, people they were very close to, lovers, their favorite meals as children etc. As the residents took turns answering the questions, Mickayla, the scribe, would write all of the details down onto the pad where the poem was growing into this magnificent living thing. Soon everyone was engaged in discussion with each other, and there was no stopping. It almost felt as if time didn’t matter. This was more than the making of a poem. This was memory emanating from our very mouths.

My short time spent at the nursing home was special because the residents were makers, they were poets for a quick hour. As they shouted bits of Dickinson through the air, or gave me sensory details about the interiors of their homes, I was forced to think of my grandmother, who, too, was afflicted with Alzheimer's. I was forced to remember the resilience in her wrinkles as she recited Langston Hughes on her death bed.  All I could do was smile as the residents learned to take control of their world with the power of words. I know my grandmother would be proud, and because of that, I can’t ask for anything more. 

Left to Right: Mickayla, Eleanor, and Sojourner
But you might ask, why poetry? What can poems do for the forgetful? Well, poets and doctors alike are starting to make connections between poetry, memory, and the human mind. Apparently a special part of your brain lights up when you encounter a poem, especially one you have encountered before. While creating my proposal for this very workshop, I purposely included poems that the residents may have come upon while in school or during their youth so the workshop would really engage them on a memory level. A big shout out goes to Gary Glazner and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project for providing me with workshop techniques and much needed insight on the Alzheimer’s disease itself. Also, a huge thank you to the National Student Poets Program for helping me make this project a reality, Suwan Kim for documenting this project with her gorgeous photography, as well as the nursing home that hosted us. 

I came into the nursing home expecting to change the residents, but in the end they really changed me. They allowed me to see the significance language can play in our lives at different stages of life, and for that, I thank them with all my heart.