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Now in its fifth year, the comprehensive program boasts a colorful scrapbook of programs

that includes a radio show, a newspaper, a literary series and entrepreneurial projects

Say it proud

The Say It Loud! program has gotten hundreds

of teens writing and involved with literary arts

By Helaine R. Freeman



It was five years ago that Patrick Oliver, a former African-artifacts shop owner in Little Rock, had that fateful conversation with New York poet Tony Medina. Oliver had obtained a mini-grant to bring Medina to Little Rock to do a youth writing workshop at Gaines Street Youth Center. The workshop had grown out of a creative-writing class that was initially part of the Gaines Street Baptist Church after-school program, where Oliver was program director. "We were talking about an idea to get young people started in writing and poetry," Oliver recalls. The idea? Start a program for those who were interested.

Poetry was not as popular then as now. But when the call went out for young poets, "they just came out from under the woodwork," he says.

 The result? Say It Loud! Youth Communication and Literary Arts Program, an effort designed for central Arkansas youths ages 12 to 18.

Now in its fifth year, the comprehensive program boasts a colorful scrapbook of programs that includes a radio show, a newspaper, a literary series and entrepreneurial projects. Also included is UpSouth Literary Arts, which exposes participants to writers, musicians, visual artists, community activists and cultural centers in various ways, including out-of-state travel to cultural events. Oliver, now director of marketing and sales at Third World Press in Chicago, still serves as Say It Loud!’s program development specialist.

   Say It Loud! admits new children around the beginning of each calendar year, Oliver says, adding that during the five-year period, "a couple hundred kids" have come through the program. Currently, 11 students are involved — as well as four volunteers.

Now in its fifth year, the Say It Loud! Youth Communication and Literary Arts Program has offered youths such as 14-year-old Simone Simmons (top) and Ngozika Okeke a variety of outlets for writing, poetry and communication.

More than 22 students are scheduled to join Say It Loud! during a Jan. 25 orientation session; 10 additional students will join in February.     A small anthology featuring the students’ writings was among the first Say It Loud! projects. About a year and a half after its inception, Oliver decided to expand on the writing component of the program as well as get the students to produce a youth-talk radio show. Say It Loud! Youth Talk Radio can be heard from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on radio station KABF-FM, 88.3.

"KABF was gracious enough to let us do it," Oliver says. "The thing that has really helped the program grow is the association with KABF, because it has really given the young people a chance to deliver what they’ve learned in the writing classes" — reading poetry on the air, developing their communication skills and writing scripts, he adds.

In 2001, the students published a newspaper. Also that year, Say It Loud! released an audio CD of poetry. The project is a combination of poetry and interludes by the students on literacy and its importance. "What they’ve learned over the years they’ve been able to put into some kind of application," Oliver says.

Three years after the program began, Say It Loud! entered into a partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Library.

Library officials had brought a bookmobile to a Say It Loud! festival, Oliver recalls. At the time, the American Library Association had just begun Live at the Library, a program that brought writers to libraries for writing workshops, book discussions and readings as a way of encouraging people to visit libraries.

  "And the library saw that that was somewhat what we were doing," Oliver says. Thus was born the partnership that lasted two years. For the last six months, the program has been on its own, with meetings held Saturdays at the Neighborhood Resource Center.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON Kendric Gardner (left) and Simone Simmons discuss research for a project they are working on.

Other authors the students have met include Bakari Kitwana, who wrote The Hip Hop Generation: The Crisis in African Culture, and Kevin Powell of MTV fame, author of Recognize and several other books on hip-hop music and culture. "And that is the thing that we try to do ... take rap and poetry and music and make young people have an appreciation for it," Oliver explains.

Since November, Say It Loud! participants have been planning for a Feb. 20-23 trip to New York to present a Powerpoint computer project on Henry Dumas. Dumas, a native of Sweet Home, moved to New York at the age of 10. He was killed at age 36 by a New York transit officer. But during his life, he published several novels and books of poetry — works acclaimed by some of the greatest of America’s poets and writers. 

"For the last two years, we have been trying to come up with some kind of way to pay tribute to him," Oliver says.

Begun in November, the project will be presented at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Education and Black Culture as part of its Young Scholars Program. A "jam session," featuring musicians from the community, is being planned to raise money for a laptop computer and a camera for the presentation. Part of the Dumas project will be presented Feb. 14 at the Neighborhood Resource Center. After the New York trip, the students will do a full presentation

Kendric Gardner and Ngozika Okeke, both 14, conduct Web research as part of the Say It Loud! Youth Communication and Literary Arts Program. The program provides poetry, writing and communication outlets for central Arkansas youth ages 12 to 18.

MAKING THE GRADE     Grades and grade-point averages of every Say It Loud! student are monitored. None of the children has a gradepoint average lower than 3.5, Oliver says. "We push that. We make that part of the program, because we know they all can do it." Regular meetings also include grade comparisons along with mutual tutoring, he adds. "Every last one of them got an A in English."

When Shamirra Clark joined Say It Loud!, she had a problem with this subject. Now the 13-year-old eighth-grader at Forest Heights Junior High School not only has an A, but is a better writer because of the program.

"I’ve also started reading more authors than I did at first. ... I’m more open to books now," Shamirra says. She has read books such as The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz and Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks, as well as classics such as Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath.

Shamirra’s musical horizons have also been expanded. "I’d never listened to Bob Marley, but now [I’m getting into] more conscious music — music with a message. It’s a very great program. It’s very helpful. And Patrick is very dedicated."

Dedicated enough to continue to manage Say It Loud! from afar — which, Oliver admits, has been a challenge. In fact, some people have been under the mistaken impression that Say It Loud! became defunct after his move and the high-school graduation of a number of participants. But that is far from the case. Oliver returns to Little Rock once a month and keeps in touch with students and volunteers by way of daily phone calls and e-mails.

Say It Loud! has been supported by a number of donors, including the city of Little Rock Community Programs Office; Little Rock Task Force for Youth; the Little Rock Education Commission; the Morris Foundation in Hot Springs; and the Black Police Officers Association. However, 70 percent of its support has come from fund-raisers as well as in-kind donations from Oliver and volunteers.

The fund-raisers were part of the group’s entrepreneurship project, Say It Loud! Youth Inc. Students and their parents organized the events to underwrite a number of trips — to Washington for a youth collaborative writing project with the D.C. Writers Corps; Chicago twice for the annual Gwendolyn Brooks Writers’ Conference; Birmingham, Ala., for a Cancer Awareness Through the Arts presentation for the Deep South Network for Cancer Control; and other activities in Memphis, Atlanta and Dallas.

During these trips, Oliver says, the students have "represented Little Rock like young ambassadors. Oftentimes when we travel, people mention the movie Banging in Little Rock" — the HBO movie about gangs in the city. But members of his group, he explains, dispel any preconceived notions of the city by behaving like "young intellectuals, young scholars."

Oliver also praises the volunteers, as well as parents, for the success of the program. "It’s those parents that have made a commitment. They said, ‘We’re going to make it happen.’"

Shamirra’s mother, Natalie Clark, is among those parents.     Clark, 40, first encountered the group at the 2001 Bob Marley Reggae Festival in Little Rock. Say It Loud! sponsored a booth at the event. Impressed with the students, Clark enrolled Shamirra in the program and gradually she became more and more involved with it. Now a volunteer, Clark sets up Say It Loud! meetings, works with the students on their radio program, helps Oliver coordinate their events and serves as the local contact.

"I just like the enthusiasm" of the children, Clark says. "They’re willing to learn and appreciate what they learn ... I just enjoy working with them. Their attitudes ... are contagious."

Both Clark and Oliver would like to see Say It Loud! reach more children — especially as it provides positive peer pressure when it comes to reading, learning and sharpening intellectual skills, Clark says.

"We [adults] can tell them that all day, but when they see their own schoolmates doing it, it has a more powerful effect on them."  Say It Loud! will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a weekend-long event in April. Meanwhile, donations are sought for the expansion of the program.

For more information, call (501) 301-8375, or e-mail

Photos: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON Above right: Instructor Kylia McDaniel (left) works with Shamirra Clark as part of the Say It Loud! program


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