Poetry gives these newest Americans hope

Posted

This America is loudly telling me I am not good enough. I am not worth the investment. This America couldn’t see my value. I am tired of trying and lying.”

Azeez Alimi is one of 12 Lehman College students who wrote about his life and experiences as a first-generation immigrant and college student. The stories were bound together and released as a book, “Our Words Have Power,” and the authors celebrated with readings last weekend at Lehman College’s Hearth Room.

Silvia Blumenfeld and Carol Foresta volunteered to lead the workshop after they approached the student leadership center with the idea of building writing skills and ways to express emotions without worrying about being judged or graded.

“It was very process-oriented,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m an art therapist by training, and Carol is an educator for many, many years. We didn’t want it to be about grades, we didn’t want it to be about pleasing us.”

Many of the students were not writers by nature or major, and fell into the workshop by chance or by word-of-mouth.

Alimi, for example, was in class with Quameisha Moreno, who heard some of his essays and asked him if he would be willing to write poetry for the workshop.

“She made sure that I had time,” Alimi said, “and that I went to every single one of the sessions.”

Alimi read “Goodbye, America,” sharing the America he found when he arrived as a 5-year-old compared to the one he had built up in his head after watching American-based movies and television shows while still living in Nigeria.

That America, he said, looked like Fifth Avenue everywhere. He thought his father, already living in the United States, would live in a mansion, would own “10, 20” cars.

When he arrived in America, Alimi found a much different reality.

“I wish that I could take back the America that I had been watching,” he said. “The America that would (have) allowed me to really live up to Fifth Ave, or at least give me access to be part of Fifth Ave. Not the America that was judging me before I even had the chance to present myself.”

Moreno read a poem about her name — the people who don’t say it right or don’t try — and how while her name is important and a vital part of herself, she doesn’t want the perception of the name to define her.

“If I hear another hiring manager say, ‘I skip over ghetto names,’ then I might just lay here and die because it is how I introduce myself,” Moreno wrote.

“I feel like if people can pronounce ‘Da Vinci,’ if people can pronounce ‘Michaelangelo,’ then you can pronounce ‘Quameisha,’” she said. “It’s three syllables. I feel like it’s pretty simple.”

Moreno is majoring in theatre and minoring in journalism, and the two have lead to her love of storytelling out loud.

“I’d rather for me to be the person to actually read it and perform it,” Moreno said. “I want you to know my emotions and my mannerisms. You won’t get the same thing if you’re just reading it. If you’re just reading it, you’ll think it is whatever you come up with.”

Seeing the students read their pieces from their own bound book was emotional, Blumenfeld said.

“We were crying just a little bit, I had to put my glasses on to hide it,” she said. “It’s been an amazing journey with these students, they’re a truly amazing group.”

That includes one student who came through when others might not think he would.

“You saw Valente read his piece, and he happens to be not a native speaker,” Blumenfeld said. “He had additional challenges, but he did it, and he wrote what I think is an exquisitely beautiful piece for the book.”

The students have powerful stories, said Lehman president Daniel Lemons, and he was glad that school could be part of them. The workshop was just part of how Lehman adapts to work with their first-generation students, he said.

“A lot of our students are first-time college students, which means there’s no one in their family that really has had that experience and can say, ‘Here’s how you do it, here’s how you apply for college, here’s how to apply for financial aid,’” Lemons said. “So those kinds of supports are really important.”

Alimi had joined as many clubs as he could when he arrived at Lehman to get himself settled in. The workshop brought him together with people who understood his stories.

“It’s probably one of the best experiences ever,” Alimi said. “You can kind of take pieces of yourself away from their stories. We’re still all sharing the same trauma, experiences, blessings even. We really just took a little piece of each other and embedded it in ourselves.”

Azeez Alimi is one of 12 Lehman College students who wrote about his life and experiences as a first-generation immigrant and college student. The stories were bound together and released as a book, “Our Words Have Power,” and the authors celebrated with readings last weekend at Lehman College’s Hearth Room.

Silvia Blumenfeld and Carol Foresta volunteered to lead the workshop after they approached the student leadership center with the idea of building writing skills and ways to express emotions without worrying about being judged or graded.

“It was very process-oriented,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m an art therapist by training, and Carol is an educator for many, many years. We didn’t want it to be about grades, we didn’t want it to be about pleasing us.”

Many of the students were not writers by nature or major, and fell into the workshop by chance or by word-of-mouth.

Alimi, for example, was in class with Quameisha Moreno, who heard some of his essays and asked him if he would be willing to write poetry for the workshop.

“She made sure that I had time,” Alimi said, “and that I went to every single one of the sessions.”

Alimi read “Goodbye, America,” sharing the America he found when he arrived as a 5-year-old compared to the one he had built up in his head after watching American-based movies and television shows while still living in Nigeria.

That America, he said, looked like Fifth Avenue everywhere. He thought his father, already living in the United States, would live in a mansion, would own “10, 20” cars.

When he arrived in America, Alimi found a much different reality.

“I wish that I could take back the America that I had been watching,” he said. “The America that would (have) allowed me to really live up to Fifth Ave, or at least give me access to be part of Fifth Ave. Not the America that was judging me before I even had the chance to present myself.”

Moreno read a poem about her name — the people who don’t say it right or don’t try — and how while her name is important and a vital part of herself, she doesn’t want the perception of the name to define her.

“If I hear another hiring manager say, ‘I skip over ghetto names,’ then I might just lay here and die because it is how I introduce myself,” Moreno wrote.

“I feel like if people can pronounce ‘Da Vinci,’ if people can pronounce ‘Michaelangelo,’ then you can pronounce ‘Quameisha,’” she said. “It’s three syllables. I feel like it’s pretty simple.”

Moreno is majoring in theatre and minoring in journalism, and the two have lead to her love of storytelling out loud.

“I’d rather for me to be the person to actually read it and perform it,” Moreno said. “I want you to know my emotions and my mannerisms. You won’t get the same thing if you’re just reading it. If you’re just reading it, you’ll think it is whatever you come up with.”

Seeing the students read their pieces from their own bound book was emotional, Blumenfeld said.

“We were crying just a little bit, I had to put my glasses on to hide it,” she said. “It’s been an amazing journey with these students, they’re a truly amazing group.”

That includes one student who came through when others might not think he would.

“You saw Valente read his piece, and he happens to be not a native speaker,” Blumenfeld said. “He had additional challenges, but he did it, and he wrote what I think is an exquisitely beautiful piece for the book.”

The students have powerful stories, said Lehman president Daniel Lemons, and he was glad that school could be part of them. The workshop was just part of how Lehman adapts to work with their first-generation students, he said.

“A lot of our students are first-time college students, which means there’s no one in their family that really has had that experience and can say, ‘Here’s how you do it, here’s how you apply for college, here’s how to apply for financial aid,’” Lemons said. “So those kinds of supports are really important.”

Alimi had joined as many clubs as he could when he arrived at Lehman to get himself settled in. The workshop brought him together with people who understood his stories.

“It’s probably one of the best experiences ever,” Alimi said. “You can kind of take pieces of yourself away from their stories. We’re still all sharing the same trauma, experiences, blessings even. We really just took a little piece of each other and embedded it in ourselves.”

Comments