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A high school in Muskegon looks to poetry to change the city's rough image

Students in a school auditorium
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
The Diatribe is holding a school assembly at Orchard View High School to get the kids excited about poetry

Some teachers at Orchard View High School in Muskegon say that the media paints their city as a place riddled with gun violence, bad public schools, and poverty. So they wanted to find a way to help their students see and take part in something positive in their community.

The teachers and school administration are looking to poetry to do that.

As the final school bell of the day just rang at Orchard View High School recently, some students made their way through hallways covered in artwork from current and former students.

Others hung around their lockers for a few moments before heading to practice for a sports team or home for the day.

But Destiny Tate was headed to her after-school poetry workshop during the second week of her creative writing class.

Tate is a junior at Orchard View and she’s been writing poetry since the seventh grade.

Teachers talking to students
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Rachel Gleason and Marcel Price, members of The Diatribe, teaching students in their poetry workshop

She waited for most of her classmates to leave the room before reading a poem she wrote for the workshop aloud. She said it's a mix of two love poems -- one for her mom, the other for her girlfriend.

“So I put that all together into one saying that this four letter word holds pretty two completely different worlds,” Tate said.

That four-letter word being “love.”

The workshop is being taught by three West Michigan poets.

Marcel Price, a.k.a.Fable the Poet, works for a non-profit called The Diatribe. He and his colleagues travel around West Michigan throwing school assemblies to get teens excited about spoken word poetry.

Rachel Gleason writes on a whiteboard
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Rachel Gleason, a member of The Diatribe, writes ideas for a writing exercise on the whiteboard

When The Diatribe gets the chance to, it teaches poetry workshops in schools to work with some of the students most excited by the assembly.

The Diatribe will be working with these young people for nine weeks. At the end of it, they’ll be part of an art showcase in May. Price says the students will get the chance to speak from their own experience.

“Hopefully inspiring other students to do the same, and getting people in their school confident and comfortable talking about what they’re going through, instead of them feeling like they can’t vocalize it,” Price said.

John Erdelyi is an art teacher at Orchard View. He says he hopes the showcase will help combat the way Muskegon is looked at in the media.

“We’re getting beat up in the press. Everything you hear is all kind of in a negative aspect,” Erdelyi said.

Frequent reports of robberies and gun violence plague the news cycle in Muskegon and the neighboring Muskegon Heights.

FBI stats consistently put Muskegon in the top ten most crime ridden cities in the state. 

Muskegon’s reputation is not lost on Destiny Tate, the junior who's been a poet since middle school.

Students writing poems during their poetry workshop
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Students writing poems during their poetry workshop

Tate was just put into a foster home in Muskegon five months ago. She was afraid that she might become another victim of violence in the city.

“I understand what they mean by Muskegon gets a bad rep because I kind of came here thinking that ‘holy crap, I might die if I’m here,” Tate said.

Tate and her friends don’t think it needs to be this way.

Jayden Day, a senior who is also taking the poetry workshop, thinks that the workshop and showcase will do a lot for the community’s image.

“I feel like this workshop will really help everybody in Muskegon and everybody outside of Muskegon see what we’re really all about and see that we’re full of bright, loving young people who have a lot to say about this world and about making this place better for everybody,” Day said.

Day and the other students are still new to many of the ideas they're getting exposed to in the poetry workshop.

With about seven weeks before their showcase, the students will continue to flex the poetry muscles few of them knew they had.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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