Generally events that involve little kids seem harder to me because I always try to avoid the "cute kid" photo. It seems like gloss to me, all surface and no substance. At first I thought this assignment, titled "Poetry Slam," would be no different.
The assignment description called for photos of children practicing their poetry at St. John the Apostle Church in West Baltimore. I was a little skeptical about the photographs that I might make at this event, considering that poetry is a written medium. I also assumed that most children are not that expressive or deep.
At first, Helen Keith's class did nothing to change that view.
The early poems were all good-natured and a joy to listen to; some were rhymes, some were songs, one was a rap song that slammed one of the other children in the group.
Then came India Morton with a painfully expressed poem about her brother's death.
Later a young-looking boy took the microphone. He was not nervous; he was calm and collected. His delivery was hurried at first, but his message was clear. His poem was about the struggle to change a city mired in death.
He spoke for thousands of Baltimoreans as he wondered aloud if there was anything he could do to help pull the city out of a continuing cycle of murder.
While I was driving home, his message sunk in for me. I thought about his situation. Would he ever escape from the violent streets of Baltimore? What it must be like to live in his dangerous neighborhood?
Growing up in Chicago I had seen some rough stuff, but I never really experienced it on a personal level.
I wondered if this kid had lost somebody close to him. I kicked myself for never asking.