CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For Coastal Bend youth seeking outlets for self-expression, the Barrio Writers program offers the tools and space for them to find their voice through writing. The second annual Barrio Writers summer program was a week-long experience held at the Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center. From Aug. 7-12, youth were provided free writing workshops and cultural arts field trips. The local Barrio Writers chapter is hosted by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s College of Education and Human Development (COEHD). COEHD educators volunteered as writing advisors, serving a diverse group of youth within the Corpus Christi community.
“Not only were we able to help the youth strengthen their expressive abilities during the workshop, we were also able to discuss reading strategies, how to improve their writing and how to build their critical thinking skills,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education and Barrio Writers’ Program Director at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
The Barrio Writers program was originally founded in 2009 by Sarah Rafael García in California to empower teens through creative writing, higher education and cultural arts. Since then, the program has gained seven additional chapters, all in Texas.
Community involvement was crucial to the Barrio Writers experience in the Coastal Bend. During one workshop day, the youth took a trip to the Art Museum of South Texas. The exhibit “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today” encouraged a spark of inspiration for their writing prompt, “creating a portrait with words.” Later in the week, John Meza, a local poet heavily involved in community charity work, taught students the history of free verse poetry and helped students experiment with writing and sharing their own free verse poetry.
“I’m grateful for the Barrio Writers for having me,” said Meza. “It was a treat to share my work, my passion and poetry with them.”
In addition to developing self-expression and exploring identity, Barrio Writers provides an environment to connect students to higher education. Mike Caverly and Crystal Moreno, Academic Advisors from the COEHD at A&M-Corpus Christi, discussed setting educational goals with the youth during the week. They also answered questions about admission procedures, scholarships, dual credit and career planning.
“Not only do we want to empower the voices of the youth, we also want to expose them to opportunities to advance their education right here in their own community,” said Dr. Johnson. “Through our work with Barrio Writers, we continue to involve local youth in programs sponsored by the University that they may not be aware of.”
On the final day of the Barrio Writers workshop, students presented their written words during a live reading that was open to the public, which included family, friends, and community members. The Barrio Writers participants from Corpus Christi will have their writing published in the Barrio Writers Anthology, Volume 8 (2017) and Volume 9, which will be available in summer 2018 at barriowriters.org.
Dr. Johnson plans to continue growing the Barrio Writers workshop, which will be held again in early August 2018.
“We want to build a larger community of writers,” said Dr. Johnson. “It’s our goal for the youth to gain confidence as they share their voices beyond the summer workshop experience. Last year’s participants were invited to read their writing to over 300 educators from across the state of Texas at a literacy conference held on the A&M-Corpus Christi campus. They were also encouraged to attend other creative writing workshops held at the university. We anticipate continuing to offer this additional exposure to both campus and community writing events in upcoming years.”
Educators at A&M-Corpus Christi continue to inspire the voices of the youth in the Coastal Bend community through events like the Barrio Writers program, the People’s Poetry Festival and University Authors’ Day. To learn more about the Barrio Writers program, visit barriowriters.tamucc.edu.