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Jaz

Jaz had it hard at home but given the neighborhood her family lived in there was no other safe alternative. Most nights Jaz stared out from the third floor window of her crumbling apartment building. She could see the illuminated 24 hour deli next door with its suspicious midnight clientele, the bar across the street and its drunkards who fist fought at least every 2 weeks only to drink together again after waking from being knocked out cold. It was the same old mess except there were younger faces taking the places of the past drug dealers, prostitutes, and so on. Some she recognized from school.

On her way to highschool Jaz took the long route to the train station to avoid the drug dealers who basically came on to anything with two X chromosomes. They had been impregnating teen girls as though it were a sport. Most of Jazs friends had kids already, were pregnant, or had abortions. Thankfully she was smart enough to not get caught up in these things. However, Given her beauty it was natural for the dealers to obsessively hawk her.

“UGHH, I can’t get away from these fools” she thought to herself one morning when she saw Shorty the biggest dealer of them all standing on the corner of one of her secret routes.“Hey Jaz, wats up baby, damn you look good, can I walk with you?” begged Shorty as he slithered his way towards her. Jaz tried to walk as far away from him as possible. “I really gotta go, Im late for school…you know, the place people go to for an education” Jaz replied while clenching her Ipod tightly. Shorty kept talking but she just raised the volume to her favorite song and muffled him out.

On the train Jaz fixated on a college advertisement that had a picture of a woman who looked a lot like her mom. “Long brown hair, rosy cheeks…beautiful, just like momma” she thought. Passengers getting off and on the train bumped into her mumbling insults but Jaz didn’t budge. The more she stared at the advertisement the less her surroundings existed. Why did they have to die? thought Jaz. Her parents had been tragically killed in a home robbery when she was 9 years old leaving her under the care of her cold Aunt Ann and Uncle Joe who had recently enrolled her into an alternative high school called “Project Hope” after finding out that she had been cutting class regularly in the old high school.

Aunt Ann decided she wasn’t going to have a high school dropout freeload off of her forever. If Jaz didnt shape up there would be no other choice but to throw her out of the house and let her see how hard it really is to survive.

Project Hope consisted of students who had been in jail, had violent histories, early pregnancies, or were academically challenged. Jaz was neither of those things, actually she was quite bright. When Jaz did get good grades in the past they went totally unnoticed. They only thing she was recognized for were mistakes or missed chores. After some time Jaz decided if she was going to be blamed for something she might as well deserve it. So school became more of a social setting rather than a place where intellectual capabilities could grow.

However, Project Hope stood true to its name and one day in English class Jaz’s poetic talents became apparent to everyone, including herself.

“I want you all to come in with a poem about anything you wish this Monday” Said Mr. Vandyke Jazs English Teacher. He was one of the best teachers in Project Hope with a long resume consisting of a bunch of odd jobs he had throughout the years. Ultimately he decided creating leaders for the world’s future was what suited him best. “What you mean a poem? Like a rap?” asked Manny one of the students who sat in the back of the classroom near the windows where he would stare out and daydream. “Well if a rap is what you consider to be poetry then sure, whatever works. The point is I want you to open up, dig deep and write about something that you feel passionately about.” replied Mr. Vandyke as he slowly walked across the room catching every students eye. The bell rang, “Monday morning I want poems. Absolutely no excuses!” exclaimed the teacher while everyone ran out the door.

Jaz went home later that day excited about the assignment. She hardly did homework but this time she made an exception. The written word enchanted her, she hardly ever read any books but when forced Jaz found herself easily drawn in by most stories, it seemed almost natural to fall into their world of imagination.

“What should I write about, ughhhh…I don’t wanna embarrass myself” Jaz thought. The television was playing loudly from the living room disrupting her concentration. Her Uncle would probably marry the TV set if he could. “That man spends too much time watching crap on TV, its disgusting really” mumbled Jaz to herself. She almost pitied him, he had no life, all he cared about were the shows on Tv. Just then Jaz became inspired “I’ll write about peoples addiction to TV, yea!!! That’s a neautral topic, Im sure everyone else in class will come in with Love or Hate poems, this one will be different” thought Jaz. She began writing and much to her surprise the words flowed freely, effortlessly, it was as though poetry was something she wrote every day, as though she were…a poet. It was a beautiful feeling, having created a piece of work, having something that was all hers. She read the poem to herself over and over loving its sound more and more. For the first time in a long time Jaz was excited to go to school and it was obvious to everyone in her house.

“What are you smiling about” screeched Aunty Annie on Sunday afternoon as Jaz sat on the sofa with a pen and paper in hand thinking of new things to write about. “Mr. Vandyke is teaching us about poetry, its like…therapeutic” giggled Jaz. “Oh really, poetry huh. Well maybe you can write about the mess in your room, it looks like a hurricane hit it. Don’t just sit there, go clean up you damn lazy pig!” Yelled Aunty Annie as she snatched the paper right from Jazs hand. “what a witch” said Jaz to herself, “I really gotta get out of here”. She closed her room door behind her and grabbed another blank paper. Jaz couldn’t escape her environment physically but she realized at that moment that she could create an escape through poetry using her imagination. The pen was like her magic wand, she was ecstatic at the very thought.

Jaz was one of the first people to arrive to class on Monday. Her heart was beating rapidly, her hands cold and clammy. When Mr. Vandyke arrived the class quickly settled down, this was a rare occurrence. It seemed as though this assignment meant something to the students, they really liked poetry, who would have guessed? Well some students liked poetry, the others were nervous about reading their bad poems aloud. “Ok, so I’d like for everyone to try reading their poems to the class but if you’re seriously uncomfortable you don’t have to and that’s just for today. However, everyone has to hand them in to me at the end of class” said Mr. VanDyke. There was a sigh of relief. “Whose going first?” asked Mr. Vandyke. The students all found a spot in the classroom to focus on avoiding eye contact with their teacher.

“Alright then I’ll pick” laughed Mr. Vandyke, “Jaz how about you?” Her heart skipped a beat and she could feel the blood rush to her face. “Errr, ummmm, I don’t know” replied Jaz. “I mean, I don’t want to go first. I…. “Ok look, I understand you’re all nervous but there’s nothing to be nervous about, everyone here will be supportive” said Mr. Vandyke as he walked towards Jaz. “I’m sorry I can’t” said Jaz and she left the classroom leaving her poem on the desk”. “Ok Ill read it for you but that’s it, from now on its all on you” said Mr. Vandyke, he took her silence as permission and he began reading aloud:

Sick of staring at screens, trapped images of the past

Tried changing the channel but each is just like the last

Synthetic celebrities, material pleasantries

Rich kids given shit I’d have to save and wait for centuries

Remember when I use to stack dreams

Now I sit eyes attached to flickering flat screens

Underprivileged but each room has a TV

Identifying with a social class that doesn’t see me

These fools school you with visions

Manufactured by pricks on capitalistic missions

Brain washing to make a stagnant nation

Tune in and you abandon imagination

LCD be that new LSD but stronger

Starts as a kid so the addiction lasts longer

Can’t get back the hours wasted

Or erase the lessons I’ve copied and pasted

But I can stand to face reality

and remove the remote from my anatomy

Fate’s handed us a flowing hour glass

Ask yourself how much of it has filled with you on your ass.

The class clapped loudly and two students even whistled. Jaz was standing at the door and heard the whole thing. She decided to go in as the next student began reading their poem. When she sat down her friend Stacy whispered “Hey girl that was real good, you a freaking poet, you write good”. Jaz smiled shyly. As more students began to share their poetry she saw how class became more than a mandatory place to be in, today class was a place of love and acceptance. For the first time in her entire life Jaz felt as though she belonged, this was major.

At the end of class Mr. Vandyke asked her Manny and two others to stay behind. “You guys are really talented, Im inspired! There’s this nonprofit organization that offers poetry and performance workshops called Urbanword NYC. I want you all to check it out. Here’s their card” Mr. Vandyke gave out the orange colored cards that had a picture of a teen speaking into a microphone with a look of agony and wisdom on his face. “Thanks” said Jaz “and thanks for reading my poem Mr. Vandyke” “You have a real talent, I want you to really check this place out ok?”. “I will, I promise” said Jaz and she left with the other students. On the train ride home she took the orange card back out and stared at the picture of the teen. She thought about how it must feel standing on a stage while pouring ones heart out to an audience of strangers, it gave her goose pimples.

No one bothered her at home that evening and she was able to contemplate everything that happened that day in class. The new respect she had for her classmates and more importantly for herself. She felt good, it was beautiful. There was something special happening. Before it was as though Jaz needed someone else to recognize her potential in order for her to see it but since that didn’t happen she subconsciously blinded herself. Now that was all changed, she was able to clearly envision her potential and it was epic. She fell asleep with the orange card in her hands and woke up to the words “Urbanword NYC, poetry save lives” on the palm of her hand. The sweat from her tight grip throughout the night caused the cards ink to leak. “Must be my destiny” laughed Jaz. Looking back now she’d admit it was a true sign indeed.

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