Mahogany L. Browne visits U. City


Madelaine Province, Staff Writer

On Friday, Oct. 7, almost over 100 students from UCHS, Brittany Woods Middle School, and Pershing Elementary across two one hour sessions sat in the spacious high school library set aglow from the afternoon sun. In partnership with Saint Louis University, Mahogany L. Brown, writer, poet, and activist, shared her time and talent to give students the opportunity to learn from her as she read her work and led a creative writing session. A few students volunteered at the end to perform their pieces to the audience.

“My personal hope is that young people are emboldened and empowered to speak for themselves, because we don’t know everything- adults don’t know everything,” Browne said. “I wanna be in collaboration with young people, I wanna learn from young people in the same way that I wanna give them lessons and tools to succeed.”

Browne has presented at schools throughout the United States, as well as Poland, England, Australian, Canada, and Amsterdam. Her works include Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, and Black Girl Magic. Browne is also the Executive Director of JustMedia.

“At the other schools I was always speaking about the validity of voice and the power of your personal truth,” Browne said. “There’s so many narratives that are never put on the larger platform, and I was there to just remind folks that no matter their walk of life, their story is necessary.”

Christina Sneed, ELA Curriculum and Instruction Leader, played a key role in bringing Browne to the district. 

“I want our students to see themselves as writers and to know that it doesn’t matter if they have proper pronunciation, if they use proper English in formal language, they have something to say that’s worth listening to,” Sneed said. “I want them to know that they can share it with the world and right now they are writers.”

Children learn best when they feel related to the material they’re engaging with. Browne’s writing is so moving for that very reason. 

“She represents all of us,” Sneed said. 

Anoa Alimayu, ELA teacher, brought her class down and participated in the event.

“She’s writing specifically about loving our identity, and you have these children of color in this space where we get to literally read our poems directly to her, maybe get feedback,” Alimayu said. “That is an invaluable experience to have.”

The experience seemed to positively impact those involved. 

“I saw kids who I have in class that are afraid to share, sharing, who are afraid to write, writing,” Alimayu said.

Alimayu feels that the traditional workshop experience is outdated. To her, this opportunity is one that she can carry with her when teaching all types of writing, not just creative writing. 

“It was really amazing to see the different age levels all learning literacy together and the experience of all of these different students from elementary school to high school learning,” Alimayu said. “What we saw today in fifteen minutes was not just expressions of what they [students] have felt for years, but these connections with other students. I’ve not seen that in a classroom in such an impactful way in such a short amount of time; that was the piece that really struck me.”

While the whole experience was emotional, there were some parts that were particularly moving. For the teachers involved, they saw a lot of growth and camaraderie between the students. 

“At one point there were four young elementary school boys all reciting this poem that they had written together,” Alimayu said. “Then one of them stops, you can clearly see he’s afraid. They literally lift him with their arms and they read the poem together. That show of brotherly love of connection was echoed. I could see throughout the entire audience that everyone was moved by that.”

Zamiyah Harris, freshman, also participated in the event.

“It was really fun and nice to get to know something different than just sitting in the classroom all day and being able to hear everyone’s different opinions and quotes,” Harris said.

Certain poems stood out to people for different reasons. 

“I liked the one about insecurities,” Harris said. “To love yourself for who you are because a lot of people can’t change things.” 

Gabriella Carvajal, junior, was one of the students who performed a piece. 

“I got to meet a really cool person,” Carvajal said. “It was scary but it also felt like I was sharing an important piece of myself that matters a lot to me.”

Stories like these are what keeps Browne going.

“Y’all do, y’all make me write.”