March 12, 2020
Written by Naomi Roswell, K-8 Program Specialist, AmeriCorps Writers’ Room Fellow.
Who are the students that visit, study, write, and create in 826 Boston’s Writers’ Rooms? Meet Kelsey, age 12, from the Boston Teachers Union School (BTU). She’s a poet, likes making people laugh, talks really fast, and thinks deeply about her identities.
My question for Kelsey was this: “If you had a message for the rest of the seventh-grade at the BTU, what would you say?” Without pausing a moment, Kelsey took a deep breath in and—in that one breath—offered:
“I would just say live your life, because it’s your life. Yes, you have to make your parents proud and teachers may not always accept your personality or the way you do things—but just be you. If you feel like people are coming at you because of who you are, remember they don’t understand what you’re doing. So, you have to make yourself known to them. Be who you are, speak your mind, do you, don’t worry about what other people have to say about you, don’t worry about what other people think.”
“Make yourself known to them” is a value Kelsey embodies every day. Since many of you won’t meet Kelsey in person, won’t see her curls bounce when she laughs, or track her animated hand gestures, we are spotlighting Kelsey to make her known to all of you.
Tell me about your perfect setting to start writing. How does your writing start flowing?
It’s not necessarily a setting—‘cause the setting for most people is more like peace and quiet, being by themselves. For me, that’s actually how I get my thoughts on paper but when ideas start coming to me is when I’m around people who are loud and having fun. Or when a problem happens, that’s where I get my ideas.
Usually, my poems are about problems happening in the world so someone will bring up political topics and I’ll think, oh yeah, and then they’ll say something that either I agree with or I don’t agree with. I’ll think to myself “oh, I should probably write about that.” I’ll just make a little note and write it down because it’s just important to note, and then, later on, I’ll most likely be bored, and I’ll remember it and I’ll go back and I’ll think, “Oh, how could I convert this into a poem of sorts?”
Where is a place or places you call home?
School is definitely one of them. I feel like at home, I have to do chores, I spend time with my family. Yes, I am being Kelsey, I am being me when I’m hanging out with my family. But it’s harder to find ways to express it because they already know me so I don’t get to express who I am. At school I’m always meeting new people and having new experiences so then I’m able to express my full potential and be the fun Kelsey that I want my friends to know.
In your poetry, you write a lot about race and blackness. Do you want to say more about that?
I am biracial, I am half white and half black, and I like to dig deep into my culture. My dad has also helped me with that. People have the argument that I’m not fully black. Me and my dad had a conversation about what’s “being black”—aside from actually having melanin in your skin.
I said being black is about expressing who you are, it’s about expressing your culture, it’s about showing your love for your black community, your black peers, the black adults that surround you. And so, that’s always my argument when people come at me saying you’re not black, you’re half black, half white. Yes, I am half white, but I identify as black.
People say to me, you have more opportunities. Yes, I have more opportunities but I still face oppression. In one of my poems I said, “I will experience the love / and I will experience the hate.”
That was saying the love that black people show each other, I will experience that. But I will also experience the hate from white people.
When you write about your experiences as a young black woman, is it to process internally, communicate outwards, or something different?
It’s usually to communicate outwards. Not all my poems are about me specifically. I usually talk in first person. But in poems, you don’t always state what you see. When I experience hate for being biracial or having a white mom and a black dad, that’s when I write about me specifically. But most of my poems are about blackness or black culture and black women. They’re in first person because it’s easier to connect.
When you come to the Writers’ Room, what do you usually work on, and what do you think of the space?
The Writers’ Room is a great community. It builds strong writers on top of the writers that are already there. I came to the Writers’ Room once to work on an assignment and then I developed a connection with [Naomi] and I felt safe telling her about what I write, and about the problems that I have in my life and that I encounter being a biracial woman.
Do you have goals for the rest of seventh-grade?
Besides the “get good grades,” “make good impressions on my teachers,” and “make new friends,” I think the goal of every kid whether they realize it or not is to succeed. Whether you’re the class clown or the quiet nerd who sits in the front of the room and answers all the questions you always want to succeed.
The “nerd,” she wants to be smart, wants to have a good life, a good job, she wants to go to a good college. The class clown just wants to succeed at making people laugh, making the teacher laugh, having a good time in school (which is what school is for). People—including most parents—make school a place where you can only learn, but that’s not what school is. School is a place where you dig deep and find out what’s your strongest subject, what’s your potential. Yes, you do come to learn here, but imagine if you came to school and you weren’t allowed to interact with people and you weren’t supposed to have fun, you wouldn’t want to be here!
For me, success is not only getting good grades, it’s about developing connections with people and working together as a team. You need to learn to compromise and to collaborate so you can make something beautiful that really stands out.