I often write about things in my blog that move me intellectually, challenge me politically, concern me socially, or inspire me personally or professionally. For this blog, I am writing about something that is all of these things. I am writing about someone who captures all of this and more through the power of his words; a young man who at 17 years old moves my spirit by his presence and moves my soul through his poetry and performance. And, I am writing about him both in acknowledgement of his unique artistry and also out of the belief, and I know one that he shares, that there are so many more Sebastian Jones’ out there - at his own Hunters Lane High School, and at every other school around the country. (A performance and interview are linked below.)
But, unlike so many of those others, Sebastian found Youth Speaks Nashville – his talent was there, his spirit and soul were there, his words were even there – but he needed to develop the vehicle to share them with the world and the support to do so meaningfully and truthfully. His vehicle is spoken-word poetry. What happens, then, for Sebastian, or any other young person like Sebastian, when this vehicle is never found, this spirit contained, this soul smothered, these powerful words muted? I believe we see the effects every day in our schools and our communities as young people search for meaning and voice and find hollowness and frustration.
Their search is part of their natural, biological growth and development, but the hollowness and frustration are created by us; by friends, families, schools, and communities that too often fail to inspire, fail to support, and are too inflexible to meet them on their path, but instead insist on forcing them onto ours. Even so, we know that when we meet young people where they are and capture and celebrate their skills and experiences, we build the will and relationships for our paths to align and our aspirations to coalesce. We adults and leaders of systems just need to find the courage and creativity to make it happen.
To be honest, anything I say about Sebastian’s work has only the potential to cheapen the experience of hearing him “spit” his poetry. So, I won’t describe it or summarize it. I can only share it with his permission. In doing so, however, I hope we all can share in Sebastian’s poetic liberation and perhaps find a touch of our own in the experience. I hope that as we walk through our schools and communities we look around and wonder which other young people have this inside just waiting to come out. Sebastian’s life and work at 17 are a shining example of the ways that the arts can open the doors to personal liberation, lifelong learning, and our collective consciousness.
Surely, this poetry is the essence of what it means for us to be human; this poet a guiding light on the path toward a stronger self and more inspired schools and communities.
originally posted in 2011