My Name is Grace: I like Write Performance & Each ...
Poet/Performer Grace C. Ocasio is at home reciting in cafes, libraries, and poetry slam venues as well as colleges and universities. Her performance style is part Gil Scott-Heron, part Angela Davis, two early role models of hers. She draws a lot from history when writing her poems. Examples of historical/contemporary figures she has written on include Matoaka (famously known as Pocahontas), Mother Hale, Angela Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Anne Frank, to name a few. A great admirer of the performing arts (acting in particular), she credits Judy Garland, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, and Barbra Streisand for inspiring her to add elements of drama to her performance (reciting of poems). In addition, she occasionally performs as a historical character as when she portrays Sojourner Truth (“Ain’t I A Woman”). Thus, Ms. Ocasio focuses on teaching students about modern historical figures who have inspired her.
As a performer, Ms. Ocasio prefaces her poems on contemporary American and European figures with biographical information that highlights major points on such figures. Ms. Ocasio also encourages students to ask her questions on the figures as to what specific characteristics they possessed that make them great role models for future generations of Americans. In turn, Ms. Ocasio solicits responses from her audience as to who their present-day role models are and challenges them to write poems on their heroes. Time permitting, students will be encouraged to pen a few lines on their favorite figures. Ms. Ocasio also informs students regarding her writing process when writing poetry as well as discussing her background as a poet––how she got her start and developed as a poet.
Regarding my workshop approach, I seek to empower youth (young women in particular) to strive to be the very best individuals they can be. Through relating my own experiences via childhood memories of family triumphs and trials, I aim to inspire young people to press on in their own lives. In essence, I see myself as a coach/mentor. That is, I do all I can to encourage youth individually and collectively. There are times when I, as an educator, need to focus my attention on individual children. At other times, addressing youth as a group is most effective. One-on-one dynamics involve listening to youths’ concerns (not just about what is going on in the classroom but also factors in their home environments that impact their success in the classroom). The group dynamics involve working with youth to master the language (vocabulary) of poetry. Thus, I equip students with knowledge of elements of poetry, lead them in discussions of individual poems, and solicit group response to poems. In addition, I expose students to history by having them engage with poetic texts that help them grapple with the most compelling issues of modern times: antisemitism, race relations, sexism, ageism, and so on.
My overriding goal, then, is to help students feel comfortable and confident about reading and writing poetry. Although my teaching experience has been obtained by teaching primarily adult learners, I work to provide young learners with the same skill sets as adult learners, only at a more basic, age-appropriate level. In a classroom setting, I share artifacts of culture in the form of the arts (music, dance, visual art, and drama). It is my hope that integrating the arts into class assignments will stimulate my students to want to know more about the world at large. To illustrate, I might have students listen to an early contemporary song as a way to learn about a specific subject (love, death, war, family unity) and then ask students to write about that subject using a specific prompt (assignment). (Students will be provided a prompt on a given subject and be asked to address the prompt during class time.) Students will then be asked to share their creative work and receive feedback as to how well they have addressed their prompt from fellow students and from me.