The Vision of Indy Pulse: Youth Leaders and Citizens
Today’s prompt: what is school?
Davida writes, “school is a daycare.” I invite her to dig deeper. Jacote compares his high school hallways to “highway traffic”—so many people, crammed so close, passing ships without enough signals.
Like every person in our city, Indy Pulse poets are, well, just trying to figure it out. What “it” is depends on the day, sometimes the hour. High school is tough. We all remember the pressures: the tests and looming-yet-undetermined future, plus the absurd paradox of wanting to stand out, yet hoping-to-goodness we “fit in.”
Compound these challenges with cyclical poverty, instability at home, crowded or under-resourced classrooms, inconsistent discipline policies, not to mention the school-to-prison pipeline (#TheNewJimCrow), and these hills turn into mountains.
My first year of teaching, I taught at 42nd and Post Road—a place with many mountains. We tried to surmount them, but it wasn’t enough; our school was set to be closed. There’s a more complex conversation here, but I’ll keep it pithy: education is not meant to be this way. If we want competent, confident, productive citizens then what IS, is not enough.
What did I do with all of my righteous indignation, all of my pain? I made a choice. Instead of entangling in education sector webs that we need to comb out to achieve equity, I flipped the equation: I chose to embolden youth voice.
Too often, youth are merely thought of as receivers, subjects, or consumers. Too often, community assets are poorly integrated, unknown, or even ignored. So, I called up three friends, fellow educators and poets, to create Indy Pulse. Through spoken word poetry, we educate and support our youth as they cultivate their voices, which empowers them to craft meaningful life paths for themselves and their communities.
Note that Davida and Jacote, when asked, “what school is,” they spoke nothing of math equations, nor of great American novels. I’m not into hierarchies. Traditional education and Indy Pulse's curriculum, community, and platform are vital. Together, they transform trajectories for our young people, and for our city.
The more space, tools, and time our youth have to process life, the better they can actualize their agency, and affect positive change. This explains our first core value—that we incorporate into our Common-Core aligned curriculum—Reflection: we write and speak about what we have done and what we hope for. We always plan to improve. We hold ourselves, and each other, accountable to being and becoming our best selves.
Spoken word is a necessary avenue; without expression, there is no reflection. Upon my own reflection, I’ve realized that schools are not well-equipped to listen. Whether this is good, bad, or indifferent, and regardless of the ways to change this, it remains true. Youths’ felt-experience of being unheard (or worse, silenced) is unacceptable. When we discount our youth, we lose our democracy.
Indy Pulse teaches them that they don’t just have answers. They have questions, too. Our second core value emphasizes this best: Advocacy—we are skeptical about all messages—especially the messages we receive about whom we should be and what we should value. We educate ourselves; we better our writing and speaking so that we can advocate—which means to promote mindsets or actions that will create good for ourselves and others.
Instead of having conversations at youth, we foster dialogue with youth. Every aspect of civic deliberation and decision-making should incorporate youth voice. All of our youths’ voices need to be included—which is why we partner with schools from across Indianapolis. This demonstrates our third core value, Inclusion: we respect and value our differences. We want everyone’s voice to be included so that we can be fair, honest, and aware. Our diversity makes us more resilient and more fully human. We include to listen, to learn, to empathize. This is the only truly democratic approach, and the only sustainable one.
Jacote’s speech signals his individuality amidst the crowded highway-hallway of his high school. His voice palpably demonstrates his agency and ability to act. A poignant lesson for my students at 42nd and Post: they are not failures. They have tools, assets, and capacities yet to be affirmed. They were born and are trying to thrive. What happens next in life is, sure, somewhat up to their will, but also profoundly impacted by the institutions and structure they encounter—sometimes daily, like Davida—even when it feels like teachers just babysit.
Since our inception in 2013, Indy Pulse has increased 170 Indianapolis youths’ attendance, academic scores, and interpersonal skills. We develop critical literacy, positive community, and engage our students in collaborative community art and service projects. We partner with 12 local organizations including: Indy Reads, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Big Car, John H. Boner Community Center and Teach For America. We continue to seek out partnerships and support from people like you—caring and conscious reader—to share their time, talent, and resources to invest in the vision that is Indy Pulse: our youth as leaders and citizens.
The Indy Pulse poets have been selected to represent Indianapolis at a National Slam in Washington D.C. The poets will be celebrating with an Open Mic Night on Saturday, September 10th from 6:30 - 8:45 pm at Indy Reads Books. Hear the poets perform, and add your voice to the pulse. All voices are welcome.
Lauren Hall is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Indy Pulse. She is currently earning her MAAA/MPA dual-degree from Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Public and Environmental affairs, in Non-Profit Management and Arts Administration. An alum of Teach For America Indianapolis, she also leads Indy Pulse’s Arsenal Technical High School team.