We believe it is critical that students in secure settings have the chance to explore literature and unlock their creative talents in writing. So, since 2013, each April we have run Words Unlocked, a month-long poetry initiative for students held in locked juvenile justice and adult facilities. Since its inception, over 5,000 students from around the country have participated in Words Unlocked.
Student poetry has been shared and acknowledged widely. In 2014, Aaron Martin, the winning poet from Words Unlocked, was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Click here to listen to the story. In 2016, we collaborated to help students and staff produce podcasts featuring student poems and interviews at two sites. Click here to visit the Words Unlocked Podcast page. That same year, a number of student poems were featured on NPR’s All Things Considered with Michel Martin.
Each year, we develop Words Unlocked around a theme. Themes have included Boundaries, Transformation, Authenticity, and Interconnectedness.
This year’s theme is transcendence. Transcendence is the existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level, beyond our circumstance. The power of the human spirit to transcend and be oneself in the face of things happening around and even to us is nothing short of magical. Through Words Unlocked we hope to encourage young people held in locked facilities to voice their truths about the ways their circumstances contribute to yet do not solely define who they are. All materials for this year’s initiative are available at our Words Unlocked website, which houses a robust set of tools available for public use: daily lesson plans and teacher-ready classroom materials.