Teaching artist Taylor Maxie is a passionate poet and lyricist
Los Angeles Streets Speaks Poetically
Street Poets Inc. is a nonprofit organization that uses poetry to help end gang warfare, violence and imprisonment in the heart of Los Angeles. The organization’s founder Chris Henrinkson began teaching poetry classes in 1995. While volunteering for the Writer’s Guild of America that year, he taught a poetry-writing workshop at the juvenile detention facility for boys called Camp Fred Miller in Malibu, CA. Henrinkson recruited “at-risk” youth who were looking to channel their misfortune into a positive and artistic way.
Taylor Maxie is a teaching artist at Street Poets Inc. Prior to his teachings in poetry he was a far cry from the poetic stage, “I was incarcerated there (Camp Fred Miller) in 1996,” said Maxie. He started participating in the poetry-writing workshop at the camp, but when released he strayed from his writing and returned to his old habits.
“A lot of the kids including myself went back into same neighborhoods (gang affiliated, broken homes etc.),” he said. “We didn’t have that outlet that was in the workshop where you can drop the tough guy act and take the mask off. Once released, we weren’t going out to sacred spaces like that.”
Maxie’s relapse led Henrinkson to create a sacred environment that was needed for youth within and outside the workshop, hence Street Poets Inc.
There are a lot socioeconomic problems in the Los Angeles area that Street Poets seeks to transform with the gift of poetry. “Our mission is social transformation through the creative process,” said Maxie.
Street Poets inspires youth who come from juvenile detention facilities, schools and the streets of Los Angeles to develop as artists and writers, something that is not always encouraged in urban areas of Los Angeles.
Young men and women who are coming out of detention facilities or on the wrong path often are not given the opportunity to discuss their pain or troubles. They spend a lot of the time holding it all in, resulting in it coming out in bad ways.
“The process provided a relief for me; bricks were being lifted off my shoulders,” Maxie states. When his problems became complex it would cause him to behave negatively.
Poetry for Street Poets goes deeper than the mere essences of reciting words; “aside from being able to use metaphors and make things rhyme, we use poetry as tool for healing,” he said. “People write about their personal stories, poetry gives a voice to those wounds” adds Maxie.”
Many poets come in to speak about personal and painful tales such as rape and molestation. Maxie empowers youth to tell their own stories so that they can be able to lead peaceful and positive lives.
However, poetry can be viewed as an emotional act that can conflict with youth’s credibility to their peers. Maxie can relate, feeling at a disadvantage with his peers stating “I didn’t feel like I could go on the block with some poetry to my homies like, ‘look man check this out because I came from a gang affiliated background.’”
Young men and women in gangs are taught to be tough and show no weakness or emotion. However, Street Poets evokes such emotion and feeling out of their poets.
They feel it is important for kids who are growing up gang affiliated to hear people expressing their pain, stories and evolutions; it filters an avenue for them to open up and relate to.
“I needed what I was feeling and caring about to be embrace,” said Maxie who has been shot five times and has dealt with the external and internal pain. He uses Street Poets as way to release the poison he felt he was carrying around.
Street Poets Inc. is more than an organization who helps the community, but a movement who travels to diverse locations such as Navajo Indian reservations, Belize, Durban, South Africa and Northern Ireland to teach and perform poetry on the belief that people need healing. They are a hybrid organization that is mobile, performing and recruiting anyone who wants to share their story on the streets of Los Angeles. They have open mic sessions, inviting people to speak openly. Their publications and recording albums expand the voice they are carrying thought the community.
Street Poets connects with kids and adults who may have never considered poetry as avenue for themselves. They encourage many that struggle to read and write to do poetry. The organization is beneficial to the Los Angeles community that is often overlooked and unheard.
For more information on Street Poets Inc. go to www.streetpoetsinc.com