“Poetry saves lives. Art from Ashes is run by people who know this, and it serves people who need to know it. This is one of the best uses of poetry that I have ever seen, and it’s right here in our own community. Bravo for AfA.”
— former Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick
The Phoenix Rising curriculum utilizes symbolism, metaphor and storytelling to engage youth who live in hopelessness and use the language of victimization because of experiences and/or circumstances characterized by poverty, racism, gender identity, criminal activity and abuse.
AfA has provided youth empowerment workshops for more than 11,000 youth in Colorado over the past 13 years. Young people in our program attest to the power of our unique 3-step process of expression, connection, and transformation to help them move past their limitations and discover hope, humanity and self-determination through the power of words.
Every day in America, children face enormous events that people of any age would find difficult to endure. For young people the emotional toll is heavy, and often suffered throughout their lives. Khlib, a 15-year-old in a residential treatment center, also found his voice and a way to express his pain through writing poetry:
“People who have never heard the word poetry are still poets. When I was full of anger, breaking things, or just keeping warm inside myself crying, that was my poetry…when you can identify what your poetry is saying and start using the canvas of your world and not just breaking things there is so much flavorful love. I’ve learned how to voice my soul through poetry, and it’s just invigorating to think back to when I always had these feelings inside me, but I never let the world see my shine.”
Our process is group-based and our curriculum is designed to be transformational rather than therapeutic, but the process of writing has historically proven to have a beneficial effect on the healing process.
As early as the first century, physicians were prescribing poetry for their patients. Benjamin Franklin used poetry with his patients in the 18th century and published their work. Many other scientists and doctors, including Freud, Adler, Jung, and Reik have attributed much of the understanding of the subconscious to poetry. Today there are institutes and places of higher education that support poetry and other creative arts therapies. Because of their effectiveness in dealing with trauma, the benefits of poetry for health and wholeness are now recognized by those in contemporary medical and scientific communities.
The Phoenix Rising program combines the articulation of painful events or circumstances in the lives of struggling young people; the opportunity to release the pain and fear of those experiences among peers and mentors; and the guidance that allows youth to use strong, healthy words that encourage an identity based on choice rather than victimization. Recent statistics of our work with youth conducted by the National Research Center have shown that of the participants surveyed, 100% of the youth enjoyed the workshops; 73% feel better about themselves; 80% cared more about the feelings of others; and 80% wanted to be more involved in their community.
Providing an opportunity for young people to express themselves can draw them out of isolation—and listening carefully to what they have to say is beneficial in itself. As Paul Tillich contends, “The first duty of love is to listen.” Additionally, writing about and hearing your own judgments, emotions and behaviors is key to self-awareness.
Because most young people in the workshops recognize the love and respect being afforded them, they also begin to acknowledge that others—of various cultures, races, religions and lifestyles—have similar experiences and emotions. This awareness serves to reconnect isolated young people with themselves, with each other, and with the community.