Sep 19, 2019

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Karen Arellano, POPS Communications Intern
Karen Arellano, POPS Communications Intern
In late spring, I reached out to on of our POPS the Club graduates and asked if she would be interested in speaking to middle school students with incarcerated family members about her experience with POPS. "I'll write up something," Leslie said, "you'll tell me if it's something that would be meaningful for the kids."

When I read what she wrote, I knew not only would the kids appreciate her words, but I also knew how meaningful her words are for everyone who supports POPS. This is an excerpt of what she wrote:

"I joined POPS when I was a senior in high school and I’m going to be honest, I started going because of the food. Who wouldn’t want to have a good lunch rather than the lunch in the cafeteria, right? So I gotta say I tend to be a quiet person. I don’t speak much until I have gained full confidence in the people surrounding me. This time I made an exception to come and speak because I was once a student at Mark Twain Middle School, and while I was, I was going through so much, and there was no way of talking out what I felt. I was going through depression. I was diagnosed with Lupus, and I was home-schooled throughout 8th grade. I lost my memory. I don’t remember culminating. I only have a picture but a picture doesn’t bring back what I felt that day. Which brings me to the point of why we are here in this room today. We are here to express our feelings, to let everything out by writing it and allowing other people to read what we are going through. 

"Many people see us and think we're ok--that we have a beautiful life with nothing to worry about. What they don’t see is our struggles. They only see the mask we wear every day. That's how I felt for years until I joined POPS. I felt ashamed of who I was, of where I came from. I was ashamed of people knowing that my dad was deported when I was 7. I was ashamed of being the daughter of a prisoner, the daughter of an alcoholic, the granddaughter of an alcoholic. Ashamed of being the cousin of guys who spent their time in and out of cells. It’s horrible feeling you have to live afraid that one day one of them won't come home. Having to keep all of that inside is hard. 

"...I'd always act strong and pretend everything was all right, but there were days when depression overtook me. I’d lock myself in the bathroom, turn on the shower, put on some loud music and cry it all out and then come out as if nothing had happened. That’s the strategy I used before joining POPS. 

Joining POPS helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one going through a situation like that. I wasn’t the only one with a family member in prison. I was so surprised when I saw many people I knew in the club.

...There’s a saying that appearances can be deceiving. And it’s true. You may see a person as happy, but in reality they’re dying on the inside. I always tried to be the type of girl who’d be there for people when they needed a friend. ...I'm here to tell you guys that you are not alone. There's no reason to be ashamed. We have to hold our heads up high and show the world we can be somebody new."

Bringing a POPS club into a school is a gift of light and love, and as Leslie's writing makes clear, POPS allows kids to feel safe enough to speak up, to create, and to connect. That was the light and love she brought to the students at Mark Twain Middle School last May in a pilot program in collaboration with Cedars Sinai Trauma Center's Share & Care Program.

We are working to continue this partnership, and our POPS grads are leading the way. In fact, because of our donor support, POPS recently hired three of our graduates, Valeria De La Torre who has become our Volunteer Coordinator, Karen Arellano, our Communications Intern, and Victor Zapata, our Social Media Intern. With your support, we can continue to expand horizons. 

We are ever grateful to be sharing this journey with you.

With boundless gratitude,
Amy Friedman
Executive Director and Co-Founder
POPS the Club
*All participants have given permission for use of their names and photographs.
Established in 2014, POPS the Club is a 501(3) with a "Silver Level of Transparency"
on Guidestar, EIN number 46-4535915. All donations are tax-deductible.
Valeria De La Torre, POPS Volunteer Coordinator
Valeria De La Torre, POPS Volunteer Coordinator
Victor Zapata, Social Media, back in the day...
Victor Zapata, Social Media, back in the day...
Leslie, a POPS the Club grad
Leslie, a POPS the Club grad

Links:

Jun 17, 2019

We Got Game

Leahnora's dancing tells a story
Leahnora's dancing tells a story

On Saturday, June 1, POPS the Club launched our sixth annual anthology, WE GOT GAME at  The Actors Gang Theater, where 40 POPS students representing eight Los Angeles POPS clubs read, sang, danced, displayed their artwork and played music. They performed before a sold-out and rapt audience, and as I watched the show, I kept wondering how I could somehow convey the magic of the day for those of you who weren't able to join us. 

After the show, as audience members moved out to the courtyard reception, the performers stayed behind to talk privately for a few moments. They had just bared their souls, and we all needed a breath. Johnny Rodriguez, POPS board member, performer, graduate and guide, gathered in a circle and asked, gently, "Does anyone have anything they need to say?"

Nods around the circle. People smiled. A few tears fell. "It was good," Mya said. And Bianca said, softly, "No, great." Then one of the guitarists leaned in and said, "I never got to go to a POPS club meeting. It wasn't at my school before I graduated, but I could have used this kind of community...Can someone tell me what the mission of POPS is?"  

That's the question I've become accustomed to answering, and for a split second I thought about speaking, telling this young man that  "Well, POPS stands for Pain of the Prison System, and that the mission is to heal that pain, and to amplify the voices of those who have loved ones inside..." But before I could say a word, hands flew into the air, and I remembered it is these young people's voices we all need to hear. And so I listened.

"It's a safe space," Alejandra said. Everyone nodded. 

"It's this place we can all be ourselves..." Leslie echoed her.

"We can say anything we want...," John B said.

"You know," Lakeia leaned in and said, "I always knew there were other kids around me who had parents in prison, but NO ONE ever talked about it. At POPS we can all TALK about it. It's okay to be who we are..."

"We're kind to each other," Caleb added.

"We make things better for each other," his twin brother Kylon broke in. 

"We find out we're not alone," said Amanda.

Nods and more nods. "I want to say something else," Caleb added. "Me and my brother don't have as much pain as other kids...I mean our uncle's in prison, and our cousin has a hard time, and that hurts us, but you know, what happens in POPS is that all that pain drops away, and when the pain drops away, we can let our creativity show..."

"Like the way Leahnora dances her story..." 

"And Virginia's poetry..."

"And Lucy's art..."

"Yeah," they said, "yeah, that's it," someone else chimed in, and I realized, again, for maybe the thousandth time, how truly wise and talented and tender-hearted these young people are, and when they are given a space to be nurtured and nourished, a space where judgment vanishes, their pain drops away, and they create.

Six Word Memoir
Six Word Memoir
Sebastian, John and Jose read
Sebastian, John and Jose read
In the audience...
In the audience...
Opening the show
Opening the show
Poetry in motion
Poetry in motion

Links:

Apr 29, 2019

We Got Game- publication and launch

We Got Game: The Sixth POPS Anthology
We Got Game: The Sixth POPS Anthology

As POPS the Club publishes our sixth anthology, we look forward (and scramble) to ready ourselves for the big book launch on June 1. WE GOT GAME has just been sent off to the printer, and we are preparing for the logistics of the launch. Over the years, our students have performed on stages and in bookstores across Los Angeles. The venues change--from Beyond Baroque's tiny theater deep in the heart of Venice when there was just one POPS club in one school, to a long, narrow room on the third floor of Barnes & Noble at The Grove where students from three schools were represented, to the storied Coconut Grove Theater in Koreatown, with students from all eight clubs in Los Angeles performing. This year we expect students, family members, and community members from across the city, and we are thrilled to be performing at the Actors Gang Theater in downtown Culver City where Artistic Director (+ actor/social activist) Tim Robbins has always kept incarceration central to the company’s artistic mission. 

Soon after the successful funding of this Global Giving micro-project, POPS the Club was recognized by the California Mental Health Services Authority / Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) –  and awarded a mini-grant to help support this event. In addition to our book launches being afternoons of entertainment, they are always characterized by the powerful healing that takes place inside our community. Isolation and stigma too often hobble those who have incarcerated loved ones, and this event helps dispel those corrosive sensations. Participating in (and even arriving at) an inviting and inclusive space allows people to understand: “I am not alone.” We can broadly outline the anticipated impact of our upcoming event with a story from last year's event. 

Allie Baiz’s father was in prison for more than half her life. Upon his release, the family continued to bear the wounds of that incarceration. In her POPS club, when Allie began to write about her complex feelings, she began to find mental equilibrium. When she decided to publish a deeply personal story in the 2018 anthology, In the Key of Love, her father resisted “airing their family’s secrets." Allie convinced her mother to sign the release form so that Allie could publish and perform at the launch. She invited her entire family to attend, and they all came--including her father. After she read onstage, the family cheered and celebrated her and open and loving conversation followed.  

This kind of healing is not reserved only for POPS students, nor is the pride that swells in their parents and family members. All audience members are moved by the power of the creative work produced onstage. Audiences have been exposed to the resilient poetry of a “dreamer” whose father faces deportation, the story of a daughter yearning to hold her mother’s hand, the tale of a boy determined to chart a new life through his melody, leaving the gang life behind. POPS also invites performers from such allied organizations as The Place4Grace, Inside Out Writers, Defy Venture, UCLA's Underground Scholars, and Get Lit, and POPS student artists will display their artwork in the courtyard.

Volunteers, staff, teachers, media, and audience members who previously knew little about the impact of incarceration on youth begin to hold a sacred space for every voice.

No one leaves this event unchanged.

Sisters celebrate their performance
Sisters celebrate their performance
Self-Portrait by Janna Rae Nieto
Self-Portrait by Janna Rae Nieto
Book signing, post performance
Book signing, post performance

Links:

 
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