Every time a thought is put into words, it is a creative act. The same way a student recognizes and is able to practice visual arts by learning images, drawing, painting, and/or sculpting, a person’s language skills expand the more s/he communicates ideas, problems, feelings, and solutions.

Committed to a critical, youth-centered pedagogy, Youth Speaks places students in control over their intellectual and artistic development. We at Youth Speaks view literacy development as an active process as opposed to a passive acquisition of skills and knowledge. Youth Speaks’ Poet Mentors facilitate ‘real’ experiences with writing, reading, speaking, listening, and thinking.

Youth Speaks aims to deconstruct dominant narratives in hopes of achieving a more inclusive learning experience. Youth Speaks views creativity as an inclusive and innate attribute that all youth possess. Rather than developing a craft, Youth Speaks offers teens the ability to freely explore their voice until their search for identity feels natural.

Genuine investment in one’s future begins the moment an individual is convinced s/he possesses a sense of empowerment. Embodied in the Youth Speaks philosophy is a respect for youth, as well as a continued dedication to their intellectual, personal, and artistic development.

Youth Speaks Poet Mentors serve as part of a classroom discourse, offering support and encouragement. By sharing their own works, as well as providing constructive feedback for youth, mentors offer narrative and expository texts that are written in their original and natural language. Contemporary and intergenerational readings bring together youth and adults to validate authentic expression and to strengthen a literary continuum. By expressing their thoughts with peers and mentors, students collectively transform the classroom from a site of teacher-centered instruction to a community that promotes student-centered thought and dialogue.

Traditional classroom-settings embody a narrative-like character where little decision-making relies on the concerns and perspectives of students in the class. Even in a ‘democratic’ class setting, youth may not always feel comfortable exercising their right to speak up or be heard, especially when giving voice to thoughts, ideas, or beliefs that are unpopular. This may leave students feeling alienated and/or discouraged from participating in class. Because traditional educational pedagogy provides nominal opportunities for instructors to validate student perspective, students ultimately assume the role of passive recipients in their own education.

We at Youth Speaks seek to create a safe space where youth feel confident sharing their voice and individual perspective. More importantly, Youth Speaks encourages youth to express themselves using their own vernacular. The idea of “talent” or being “talented” is often viewed as a mysterious force bestowed on a given individual, rather than the result of hard work, practice, and commitment.