Share the Mic Heads East to Expand Students’ Voices

A back stage view of a student performing at Share the Mic on December 11 at East High School.

Like a contagious positivity, it’s passing from teen to teen. Like an electric current, it’s flowing from school to school.  Like a…well, enough of what it’s like. What is it, actually? It’s Share the Mic: Community of Voices Creating Change.

Last night it came to East High School for the first time and a couple dozen finger-snapping, truth-spitting poets took turns shining light into dark corners. There was a joyous ode to the mother who’s soon to come home from prison. There was a declaration of war against bulimia. There was the lament of a younger sister who didn’t know how to mourn an older brother she never knew that was in stark contrast to a pair of siblings’ celebration of their sisterhood. And there was the announcement of a young girl’s determined ambition to be kind and exceed expectations that was just as delightful as her name, Apple Amos. And those are just to cite a few.

You leave these events wanting to talk and write about them but then are struck by the apprehension that whatever you say won’t do them justice. They are organic and healthy and they are maybe an acquired taste, but the acquisition doesn’t take more than a few fervent poems. When describing what DMPS teachers Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang have wrought with these events it’s tempting to invoke the old notion that they’ve “created a monster.” But that’s misleading. RunDSM, the umbrella comprised of five programs, including Share the Mic, beneath which more kids all the time are finding refuge, is no monstrosity. The founders are two passionate pebbles who threw themselves into a deep pool of disaffected, challenged kids and the circle of ripples just keeps getting wider.

At East they’ve connected with kindred spirits in teachers Kortny Williamson and Kayla O’Connor who’ve started their own weekly after-school poetry workshops modeled on the ones that have been happening at North for a few years now. When East’s school improvement leader, Kris Byam, a former colleague of Rollins and Lang at Harding Middle School, approached O’Connor about opening a branch program at East she was all in.

“I have kids telling me all week they can’t wait to get to workshop,” she says. “That’s how Kortny and I feel, too.”

Last night’s roster of performers was a good mix of veterans and rookies and one of the principles that is fundamental to the RunDSM credo – energetic reciprocity (i.e., hakuna matata) – was behind maybe the loudest ovation of the night, the one that embraced a poet who was cruising along in her piece before getting lost trying to find her way to the finish. Somehow you just know that won’t happen to her again. In fact, before the show was over, she got back onstage and finished what she’d started.

The tone was set from the start by the DJ Wolfpack from Harding and the East High Steppers. Monte’sha Carter, the bubbly emcee, took it from there. Sprinkled throughout the show were performances by Lang, Rollins and O’Connor to demonstrate that those who teach can do, too. Rollins’ riff on the different ways and means of power amounted to a pep talk that would have made football coaches seem mealy-mouthed.

Last night’s event came fast on the heels of Tuesday’s foray into Waukee where DMPS kids conducted workshops for their suburban peers. So it’s been a week of rapid expansion, even by the expansive standards of RunDSM (Share the Mic, Minorities on the Move, Hip-Hop: Rhetoric & Rhyme, Movement 515 and Urban Leadership 101). Like a wildfire, the good words, too, can spread.

Photos from the Share the Mic Event at East High

DMPS-TV Report on Share the Mic Event at East High

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