LA nonprofit Get Lit brings poetry, literature to students

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Friday, August 19, 2022
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The nonprofit Get Lit brings literature, spoken-word poetry and visual media to students in the Los Angeles area.

Every wall of the Los Angeles-based Get Lit office holds the power of art and words.

"We just want our young people and our teachers to have the best. We want them to feel nourished here," said Diane Luby Lane, founder and executive director of Get Lit-Words Ignite.

The nonprofit organization brings literature, spoken-word poetry and visual media to students.

Luby Lane began as an actress and writer who fell in love with poetry through performance, and started taking it to classrooms 16 years ago.

"These poems are the bridge oftentimes between the teachers and the students," she said.

"It's been like, how I can express my emotions and just like get in touch with them," said Sophia Bazini, a student at Larchmont Charter High School.

Through the curriculum and its vast anthology, students interact with contemporary and classic poets from Shakespeare to Nipsey Hussle.

Jeanetta Wolfe, an educator and poet, has taught it in her classroom for more than five years.

"I would just have to say transformative and life changing. That's not just a slogan," said Wolfe.

"Get Lit's slogan is 'claim your poem, claim your life' and it's just the absolute truth," added Wolfe, who teaches in southeast Los Angeles County.

"The first word that comes to mind when I think about Get Lit is 'opportunity,' because that's just what they've offered me is opportunities to learn about poetry and also just opportunities to share my work," said Jelina Hendrickson, a student at Mark Keppel High School.

Now, students are becoming teachers through Get Lit's, first-of-its-kind virtual platform Uni(verse.) They're reaching students across the country and the world.

"Our role is just to like really make people comfortable using the platform," said Sierra Leone Anderson, a student at Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA.) "So people can really see themselves as poets and as writers, and step into their power that way."

The youth poets are from Southern California, like Salome Agbaroji, a student at Ghar High School and the current L.A. County Youth Poet Laureate.

"Poetry is such a big thing that isn't being acknowledged. The art that is usually acknowledged is music, maybe dance and film," said Agbaroji. "But poetry has been such an integral part of historical movements. When we think of abolition it was literacy that allowed this movement to go forward," she said.

Get Lit's curricula covers different subjects from English to ethnic studies. The latter will soon be a California high school requirement. Their program is in several school districts, including the second largest in the country, LAUSD.

"We've brought in the best minds that we know," said Luby Lane. "Leaders and scholars and poets, from Asian, Black communities, Latino, indigenous cultures, LGBTQ."

Among them, L.A. poet and activist Luis Rodriguez, who describes the power of older works through a younger generation. "It brings new life to old classics, beautiful poems that sometimes again, get forgotten or don't get taught anymore. They bring it to life again, and then we're all coming alive as poets," said Rodriguez.

Today's youth have wise bones, he said.

"Young people are tapping into Malcolm X. They're tapping into Ruben Salazar. They're tapping into Crazy Horse. They're tapping into these voices, queer voices, women's voices, some of them never heard of -- they're tapping into it."

The youth poets also describe a true sense of belonging. "This community that this organization has presented is absolutely amazing. It's changed my life," said Anthony Minasian who graduated from Cleveland High School.

"I love it here," said Jonathan Smith of Venice High School.

For its founder, the mission is far bigger than the platform. It is rooted in love and respect for young people and the poets who came before them - it's about love.

"That's bigger than anything in the whole wide world and that's what this work means to me," she said.