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  • Literary Lots

Creating the Spaces for the Creative in All of Us

My name is Adam James Zahren, and I have the great opportunity to work with Lake Erie Ink as a teaching artist for the last year. Part of my job during the regular year entails running an after school program, but since it is exceedingly warm and humid (the off season, if you will) my summer has become jam packed facilitating a variety of summer camps ranging in topics from puppets to comics to young novelists. So when Literary Lots in Slavic Village popped onto my radar, I knew I found an event that was bound to be beyond compare. I insisted that I got my hands in this project.

Before teaching with Lake Erie Ink, I served in Slavic Village for two years as a City Year Americorps member at Fullerton and Mound respectively. I helped teach third grade and acted as a team leader. If I can be honest, this neighborhood means more to me than words could express; I think the people who inhabit it and the culture that percolates is nothing short of magical. I was thrilled to have the chance to get back to my old stomping grounds! I had no idea what to expect, but as always I stepped into the situation with effervescent excitement and plenty of playfulness. Kindness, love, and bravery are values I hold close to me always.

Through the course of the summer, Literary Lots provided a space where people of all ages could harness their creativity, play imaginative games, and express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgement or backlash. One of my favorite elements of the event were the open mics where students could take the microphone, perform poetry, sing, or just dance to the bumping music. An unforgettable memory was when everyone in the lot joined together singing "Old Town Road" while students lead the charge on stage with the main microphone in their hands, back up singers synchronized, and a overflowing team of dancers held the crowd's attention.

From my perspective, Literary Lots proved a place where people could come together and celebrate literacy, friendship, and community. It became a space where questions were encouraged, where we thought critically, where we shared parts of our selves and got to see each other's stories in a new light. The most beautiful thing about this experience was watching students find their voices and seeing their faces light up as they got a glimpse of what they're capable of. 

I feel elated to be part of this experiment. Kids should be absolutely entitled to their own safe spaces. They deserve to express their ideas, opinions, and develop their voices regularly and with support and encouragement. The kids I meet in my journey through education possess experience, insight, and intuition beyond compare. This situation was no different. Each time I got to come to the lot, I felt blown away by our student's knowledge of geography, biology, celebrity studies, and popular culture. Our kids are brilliant. I'm just going to say that one more time: Our kids are brilliant, and they're powerful artists. 

Let's continue making the world a place where we value each other's words, appreciate each other's differences, and truly listen to what one another has to say. We can change the world if we use our voices for. We all have the power to make tomorrow better. Let's make it happen. 

Author Adam James Zahren

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