Spoken Word poetry camp teaches students about city’s history

Times staff report

A dozen students participating in Through the Eyes of a Young Poet, a spoken word poetry camp taking place this week at the Birmingham Central Library downtown, got to see first-hand photos and artifacts of Birmingham’s civil rights past and other historical events.

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is partnering with John Paul Taylor of Real Life Poets to offer the week-long spoken word poetry camp for Birmingham area teens in grades 9-12 that kicked off Monday, July 10, in the Central Library downtown. The teens will write original poems about the civil rights movement which will be recorded via video or audio for BPL’s Archives Department. Check out Real Life Poets at www.reallifepoets.org.

“We have had an incredible group of teens working with us this week from all over Birmingham and Jefferson County,” said Lance Simpson, department head, The Learning Center, Birmingham Public Library. “Each day, they have discussed the Civil Rights Movement both past and present. We’ve talked about major events from the 1960s, and where the Civil Rights Movement is in present day and what they hope to see with the movement going forward.”

Simpson said he was pleased by the level of engagement from students. “Our teens have written incredible poems through the week, taking time to reflect on the archival pieces they’ve seen, and drawing comparisons between the events of the past and present day,” he said. “We could not be happier . . . they are eager to talk about civil rights issues, and to make their world and safe and better place.”

On Friday, the library will video record and digitally archive poems from students to serve as a historical record in their present-day voices.

Taylor, of Real Life Poets, said, “Once upon a time the children of Birmingham spoke to the world through the actions of the Children’s March. This week the youth will use their voice to spread knowledge, personal views of Birmingham now, how far we’ve come as a people and how far we have to go.

“They are writing poems on topics from terrorism to mass incarceration,” Taylor said. “The youth of Birmingham are so much more aware than we give them credit for. Real Life Poets is so honored to be partnering with the Birmingham Public Library on this very important project.”

The Real Life Poets Inc. is a non-profit community service organization focusing on mentoring young adults, encouraging good communication, and oratorical skills using spoken word poetry and the arts.

On Wednesday, July 12, the teens listened intently as Jim Baggett, head of BPL’s Archives Department, shared stories of the racist attacks blacks endured during the civil rights movement. Earlier this week, Baggett showed photos of damage from bombs the Ku Klux Klan placed outside the home of Birmingham civil rights legend the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s home and church, Bethel Baptist in Collegeville.

“For the program, we wanted the teens to have a chance to process and evaluate the Civil Rights Movement past and present through the medium of poetry,” Simpson said. “The students have had some profound thoughts on the current state of the movement, and they are eager to be active participants in helping to shape the world as a safe place for all people.”

The Birmingham Public Library’s Archives Department, located in the basement of the Linn-Henley Research Building, receives visitors from across the globe researching Birmingham’s civil rights past and other historical events.

For additional information about the programs and services of the Birmingham Public Library, visit www.bplonline.org and follow on Facebook and Twitter @BPL.