Last week I had the incredible pleasure of working with 50 high school students in The Bahamas at C.R. Walker high school on how to use the arts, specifically poetry, for effective expression. The poet-in-residence (PIR) project was organized by the United States Embassy in Nassau. The goal of the PIR program is to build cultural and community pride through the use of poetry and the spoken word. While most people know The Bahamas as a top vacation destination, there are serious challenges facing the Bahamian community from crime and drug abuse to xenophobia towards Haitians and alarming rates of breast cancer. The PIR project was brought to The Bahamas to not only provide an outlet for these students to speak on these issues, but also to speak about what makes them proud—their culture.
The youth in this program really taught me a great deal more than I could have ever taught them. The most important lesson I learned is that there are youth who in the most challenging circumstances, still manage to keep their priorities in order. Whereas some people (youth included) I have met across the globe have an obsession with obtaining material items as proof that they have “made it” in life, the youth in this program had their priorities in order. Their goals were to keep their faith, get an education, and have a family. It was after they attained these things that the talk turned towards fancy cars and huge houses.
The students of the Bahamas are as passionate about creating a better future for their island and planet as any youth I have encountered in the 21 countries I have visited to date as a youth speaker and UPstander. On the night of the final performance, these teenagers shared powerful songs, raps, and poems that spoke to Bahamian multicultural unity, a passion for faith, women’s rights, animal rights, and so much more. While I know that most of us will only think of The Bahamas as a tropical vacation island (as I did when I first visited it over a decade ago), I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone while you are there or anywhere you vacation, and step into the heart of the city, which is the heart of the youth. You will indeed learn a valuable lesson.