Building a better land, one word at a time — that's the goal of Twelve Literary Arts, a non-profit that serves as an incubator for poets, writers and performance artists.
Made possible through the Cleveland Foundations Arts Mastery program and the Famicos Foundation, Twelve Literary Arts seeks to help kids figure out who they are by writing about themselves. Twelve Literary Arts is giving new life to young people who use words as a passport to undiscovered places within themselves. The program was created three years ago by Daniel Gray-Kontar.
“The literary arts is an opportunity for young people to speak truth to power, to interrogate what makes us tick, to create a deeper understanding of who and what they are, to interrogate community and understand more deeply that way in which it is,” Gray-Kontar told News 5.
The goal of the program is to develop writers of color, starting from age 14. Kynedy Dent started working with Twelve Literary Arts when she was 14.
“Without Twelve I don’t think I would be the poet or the person I am now,” Kynedy said. “Twelve really allows you to not only share your work and your art, but to share pieces of yourself that you think that you have to hide from everyone.”
The program teaches about 25 kids at a time from schools across Northeast Ohio. Gray-Kontar said he knows how to spot those students who stand out, and he gives them an opportunity to learn the craft.
“Once we are in those schools we find who we call young orchids,” he says, “These are young people you can tell have something to say. They are future leaders and maybe even future teachers.”
He’s talking about students like Raja Belle Freeman, who is now an Assistant Teaching Artist with the program. She tried to explain why more kids should be a part of this program: “It is life-changing. You meet people and you learn things about yourself. You develop this craft you might not have even known you had before. With this program I feel I’ve really blossomed into myself more than I could have without it.”
The students meet twice a week after school. They type out their thoughts, discuss ideas and eat together. A lot of them describe the program as a family atmosphere. It was all in preparation for the Youth Team Poetry Slam Competition May 9, where it was determined who would go on to Las Vegas to compete on a national stage at the Brave New Voices festival. Gray-Kontar said the event is more than a competition.
“It’s really about getting young people together to understand each other better through poetry,” he said. “It’s a great way to get people to come together and celebrate the word and celebrate each other.
If you’re interested in supporting Twelve Literary Arts, it’s as simple as sending a text message. Text “Twelve” to 41444. Then you can choose whether you’d like to donate $12 at once, or $1 per month for 12 months.