The Rider-Pool Foundation

Culture/Art

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center: Youth Poetry Workshop

LGBT youth often feel they don’t have a voice, and at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, it’s common to meet youth who feel misunderstood or even pushed aside by family. Through Bradbury-Sullivan’s youth programs, funded in part by The Rider-Pool Foundation, LGBT youth are finding their voice and creative opportunities to express themselves, every day.

The Youth Poetry Workshops launched in November 2017 through Project SILK Lehigh Valley, a collaborative program between Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and Valley Youth House. The youth empowerment program is designed for LGBT youth of color aged 14 to 21 and serves a large population of homeless or housing-insecure youth.

The workshop is in line with Project SILK’s goal to involve youth in decision-making around their programs. When the idea of a writing workshop was presented to them, it was the young people who selected poetry as the focus. Even the name of the series, Slam Yo Feelings, was created by the participants.

Executive Director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Adrian Shanker explains that LGBT youth are perhaps the most vulnerable members of a historically marginalized and underserved community and face a host of challenges at disparate rates from their non-LGBT peers.

“When they come to us, it’s our job to make them feel seen, heard, and validated. Offering a platform in poetry has had that impact,” Shanker says.

He notes that across the United States only 28 cents of every 100 foundation dollars are directed to LGBT programming. With such limited resources, he extends gratitude to The Rider-Pool Foundation to both notice and respond to this unique need in our community.

The poetry project fits well into Bradbury-Sullivan Center’s youth, health, and arts and culture programs. Bradbury-Sullivan has a full library of LGBT fiction and non-fiction books, CDs, and DVDs. Gallery space is devoted to professionally curated works that celebrate LGBT-themed art. Private rooms are available for HIV testing and conversations about personal health and wellness from trained mentors and professionals. The Cyber Center allows homework completion or online healthcare enrollment assistance. Outside the Youth Lounge, there is an emergency supply closet for basics such as shampoo, toothpaste, and personal items.

There is a sense of urgency to continue building all of the programs for the local LGBT population. In this comprehensive space, Project SILK’s Youth Poetry Program has the underlying effect to help academic challenges and enhance reading, writing, and comprehension skills.

Kim Ketterer, Youth Programs Manager, reports that seven to 10 youth attended each weekly workshop with a total of approximately 20 youth involved in the program. “We saw kids finding a voice,” she says of the noticeable outcomes. “After they started writing, they were able to speak more openly as well.” Themes that have come out of the youth writing include identity and exploring identity, school, friends, and relationships.

A 22-year-old non-binary participant said about the program, “It has encouraged me to write more and figure myself out as a writer. Not everything you write is going to be gold but there are diamonds in the rough. It’s worth searching through the rubble to find the treasure that is my poetry.”  Another 15-year-old non-binary young writer said, “It inspired me to come out of my shell about serious topics and anything emotional. I look forward to the workshops and it helps me connect with other people. It brings me joy!”

The Youth Poetry Workshop will culminate with a poetry slam in the fall of 2018. A reflection statement will be collected from program participants at that time to measure the influence of the program on the academic, social, and personal outlook of the participants and help shape future writing programs at Bradbury-Sullivan Center.