Free Minds has launched a new community initiative which uses our literary journal They Call Me 299-359 as a tool for education, reflection, and healing. “On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Community and the Classroom” is led by Free Minds senior members now home after serving their sentences, and uses a format of shared reading and discussion to prevent youth violence and incarceration.

As its name indicates, “On the Same Page” is designed as a way to find common ground with diverse audiences to learn more about youth and build relationships. By connecting through non-traditional mediums such as poetry, participants are able to have a real discussion about the root causes of youth violence and, ultimately, to brainstorm solutions. As one participant commented after the workshop, “I look at the news totally differently now. I feel like I have a different perspective.”

Lamarzs at "On the Same Page"

Free Minds Reentry Member Lamarzs reading from the literary journal at an “On the Same Page” event

A hallmark of the “On the Same Page” program has been the breadth of audiences targeted. From international congressional staffers to GED students, reading from the literary journal has brought new information and self-examination, as participants are asked to look both at their own lives and at larger public policy.

A second powerful component is that each session is designed and facilitated by Free Minds members themselves. The ability to share from their past experiences and use them to teach others has been life-changing. One Free Minds member, Dashon, said of “On the Same Page,” “It allows me to help youth avoid the same path that I was on when I was their age and give them a head start. Show them doing positive is always more fruitful.” As David Tulman, English teacher at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, enthused, “Free Minds members are growing into true and positive leaders. It’s so cool for my students to be able to see that.”

On the Same Page with Lantos Congressional Fellows

Free Minds members reading poetry with Lantos Congressional International Human Rights Fellows at an On the Same Page event

Through “On the Same Page,” Free Minds has also been able to strengthen community engagement and partner with remarkable organizations. In collaboration with PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools, Free Minds members are now given the remarkable opportunity to visit DC High Schools as guest authors. On a recent trip to Bell Multicultural High School, we met with the school book club coordinated by the school librarian. Students were able to analyze the poems, share life experiences, and relate to the Free Minds poets. Their favorite poem was “They Call Me 299-359,” and by meeting the faces behind the numbers many students came away with inspiration for change on a personal and societal level.

If you know of a school, program, or other organization that would be interested in hosting an “On the Same Page” event, please contact Free Minds at mail@freemindsbookclub.org.

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