On November 30, 2011, Urban Possibilities held a culminating reading for Dorothy Randall Gray’s nine-week, P&W-supported poetry workshop, which served men and women living at the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row.
Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit organization that brings inspiration and a variety of services to homeless men and women, held a reading for their Published Writers Program, taught by Dorothy Randall Gray. The event began with a warm reception and an introduction by Eyvette Jones Johnson, founder and executive director of Urban Possibilities.
There is a “sea of untapped potential in the inner-city,” Johnson said. “No matter where you are or what you’ve been through, [you] have gifts and talents to share.”
To write about their struggles, Johnson said, the participants had to have their “hearts wide open.” She asked that audience members reciprocate.
Gray was so proud of her students and the writing they produced that she said, “I feel like I almost gave birth.” She dedicated the piece she read, “You and Me, Me and You,” to her students. She described being “stranded at the corner of walk and don’t walk” and “invisible to those who will not see.” The poem repeated the phrase “they fly.”
All of the workshop participants came to the mission after living on the streets. Many have dealt with substance abuse, gambling, addiction, prison, and abusive relationships. “I felt like I was failing life,” participant Anthony Tate said. Another student said of the workshop: “It just sort of woke up my dream…I had put it on a shelf.”
To close the reading, the students stood together on stage and had the audience participate in an exercise. Each student said one word or phrase, and the audience said it back. After reciting the phrase “carpe diem” back, the whole auditorium burst into laughter when the voice of one young child echoed the phrase back a few moments afterward, provoking a whole new meaning and a sense of hope.
At the reception, participant Michael T. Williams reflected, “I was sleeping in graveyards, ‘cause I thought that was the safest place to be. Now I feel like Pinky and the Brain, and I’m ready to take over the world.”
Photo: Dorothy Randall Gray (center) with workshop participants. Credit: Craig Johnson Photography.