“We need each other.” Those are Dasha Kelly Hamilton’s words describing what she’s learned from young people she has worked with for the past 18 years. Our country and our city are changing because more people are speaking up, but the voices we need to hear the most are those of the youth in this country. For them to speak louder, they need a support system and the confidence that their voice matters.
Still Waters Collective (SWC), founded by Kelly Hamilton, is one of many organizations in Milwaukee working with local youth to help them find their voice. It is an outreach organization that uses creative writing and performance art to build community. The organization started as an adult open mic but has since grown to predominantly serve youth by partnering with public schools to teach poetry workshops. Words have power when we speak our truth, but the real power happens when an audience listens to those words and is affected by them.
The organization first transitioned to work with youth when Kelly Hamilton was asked to teach a workshop at a Milwaukee high school. Her world changed when she asked the class a simple question: “How many of you think your voice matters?” Less than a third of the class raised their hands, which surprised her. They were so young, she thought, but not excited by their ideas, thoughts and imaginations. “I was never there to teach them but to show them that they are important,” says Kelly Hamilton. At the end of all her workshops, she has each student write a poem because it “requires the young person to consider all the possible ideas in the universe… Recognize that you’re creative, and your voice matters. Magic happens by the time we get to that poem.”
Words Have Power
Kelly Hamilton reiterates one point to every one of her students before they perform their poems: “Every time you speak your truth in front of an audience, there’s someone who needs to hear it.” That statement is why poetry is so important. We all relate to one another and through words, we can come together to a common understanding. Listening can be just as powerful as speaking, and having active listeners shows these young people that their words have power.
Words touch our lives in many ways, and SWC wants to make sure that words are also being used to connect the people across our city. One of their core programs is the SWC Fellowship in which students from ages 18 to 25 complete course work and connect with local community members to build relationships. The intention is to cross the lines in Milwaukee’s different neighborhoods and show the participants of the program that they are welcome in any part of the city.
“These are young people who have figured out that their voices matter,” says Kelly Hamilton, but, as she explains, this is also a time in their lives when they could lose that confidence. Still Waters Collective ensures that they have a time and place to share that voice.
We all have stories hidden away where the still waters run deep. Telling those stories helps the listeners better understand their community and allows the storytellers to speak their truths to the community. The people of this city can empower each other by listening; by listening we can open a conversation.
View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column.