My class of teenage girls makes my day. We’ve been working on Suheir Hammad’s brilliant ‘What I Will’ poem. A beautiful call to independent thought and nonviolence.
I intentionally didn’t give them the name or nationality of the poet. We worked on it through a lens of open interpretation as opposed to the literal meanings of her words.
At the end I asked each girl to write me an essay on what the poem meant to them and what they thought the poet was talking about.
This is a selection of the things they wrote:
‘This poem means nobody has the right to control human life. The author hopes for equality between men and women.’
‘She feels compassion for the weak because they don’t have the strength to speak and make change.’
‘I agree with this poem because it’s true that all people should have the right to express their opinions without being frightened.’
‘She’s talking about her past and that she has changed. She’s gathering her beloved to help her from “the old her”. She used to be lifeless but she’s trying to show people she has changed. She’s following her own beat and living her life.’
‘It’s about a fight between Americans and Native Americans who aren’t going to leave their country for people who don’t appreciate it… They will keep dancing in the way of the life they have made and developed through all these years. Nobody, nothing will make them dance to another beat.’
‘This woman is strong. She wanted to explain her feelings when she is angry. She talks about love and hate and the fighting that happens between people.’
These girls come in every day for this after school program. It is free and they are not obliged to attend. Yet they come in every day and they work hard and bring with them a genuine desire to learn.
I had them in groups talking about who (as a group) they would invite to a dinner party. Answers ranged from Newton, Einstein, Hitler and Hannah Montana to Oprah, Miss Sara (score!) and Ashar's best friend because she's nice.
My favorite however was the following statement just because of its construction and effortless cool.
'I would invite the Prophet Mohammed because he's, like, the best.'
You can see some of them in this promo video that one of the guys at the organisation I'm working for put together on what we're doing.