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Teen Summit at Library encourages creativity to beat the odds

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

“What does poetry mean to you?” Tony Medina—an award-winning hip-hop artist, teacher, poet, activist, and author—asked a room full of middle and high school students. Muffled answers prompted him to get the energy flowing.

Taking out a packet, he told the teens to take a good whiff of its contents and jot down the first things that came to mind. “You gotta trust the funky co Medina,” he said to the resisting crowd.

Tony Medina

The aromatic mystery concoction did the trick; giggles, chatter and creativity filled the room and poetry filled blank pages.

Medina was the keynote speaker for Cleveland Public Library’s Third Teen Summit on Oct. 24, 2009 to “Beat The Odds” in celebration of Teen Read Week. The all-day free event hosted workshops, lectures, and introduced 150 youth to alternative careers like becoming a mortician, tattoo artist, and personal trainer.

“This Teen Summit is one of many initiatives undertaken by Cleveland Public Library to help inspire young people to reach beyond traditional barriers, lead safe, productive lives, and make a difference in the world,” said Felton Thomas, Jr., director.  “The addition of Tony Medina allows us to present information and opportunities on a level readily identified by today’s youth.”

Medina, who grew up in the Throgs Neck Housing Projects near the South Bronx, proved it was possible to “beat the odds” by earning his MA and PhD in Poetry and U.S.-American and African-American Literature from Binghamton University, SUNY.

As Associate Professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he inspires students to pursue their literary dreams as of Creative Writing. Writer’s Digest named him one of ten poets to watch in the new millennium, and his poetry, fiction, and essays appear in more than 80 publications.

Medina said he was delighted to be back in Cleveland and grateful for the opportunity to encourage teens to use their circumstances as tools of inspiration rather than viewing them as roadblocks.

Shakita Snowden enjoyed Medina’s workshop and said his mystery concoction introduced her to new ways of approaching creative writing. “It’s the little things that matter most sometimes,” she said. An avid writer, Snowden is working on a short romance novel that: “looks at relationships from different perspectives.” She looks forward to using all her senses to make her writing more compelling.

Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz encouraged students to utilize the many online resources CPL offers in her workshop, ‘Looking Beyond Myspace’. From homework help through the popular KNOW IT 24/7 to college information she said there are unlimited scholarly and safe resources available at their fingertips.

Diamond Ortiz said it was great to be able to teach teens something new. “We assume that teens already know everything about the Internet,” said Diamond Ortiz; she added, these misconceptions need to be changed in adults. One tip she stressed for the students: “Don’t believe everything you read.”

For safety in the real world, Johnny Maldonado introduced simple self-defense techniques and stressed three crucial elements—awareness, speed, and distance. “Make it a habit to be aware of your environment, get distance between you and the aggressor, and apply these techniques quickly,” said Maldonado.

He added, these simple techniques can keep them safe on the streets and from bullies in school and all begin with erect posture that doesn’t project an easy target.

Yvette Vargas, seventh grader at Garfield Middle School said she would practice and share the techniques with her friends. “It was really useful and will be good for waiting at the bus stops, especially in winter,” she said.






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