Social justice activist and Cave Canem  fellow Ama Codjoe blogs about her work as a teaching artist with the P&W-supported Girls Educational Mentoring Services (G.E.M.S.) , a New York City based organization that aims to support young women who have been commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked.
I teach social justice and poetry through asking myself the same big questions I pose to students. As a teaching artist I am invested both in my life as a teacher and in my life as an artist. These two pieces of my identity inform one another. When I assign the group a poem to write, I often do the assignment myself. While G.E.M.S. participants were interrogating what it means to be woman, I was asking myself similar questions in my artistic practice.
The inspiration flows in both directions. Just as frequently as I find myself using my teaching practice to inform my artistic practice, I also bring strategies, poems, questions, and obsessions from my writing life back into the classroom. If I look back at periods when I have been teaching a particular group of students and then examine the poems that I wrote during that time I can often find traceable themes and continuities. For five weeks of teaching and five weeks of writing we seemed to return to these central questions: What do we invoke? What do we want? What do we dream?
To close our time together, young women who participated in the P&W-supported workshops read their poems at an art exhibit that also featured their visual art. Listening as their confidence, nervousness, clarity, and power filled the room, I was impressed by how these young women had turned to me, turned to each other, and turned to the page. The space where we write, discuss, reveal, and revel is a space of courage and power—is a political space. The work of self-reflection, writing, and creativity is worthy work, and as Audre Lorde  insists, poetry is not a luxury . In other words the work of a poet is dangerous and life-changing work.
Photo: Ama Codjoe. Credit: Evelyn Bojorquez.
Support for Readings/Workshops  in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts , and the Department of Cultural Affairs , with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers .