His teacher transformed the room into a poetry den reminiscent of Greenwich Village when Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Dylan owned the streets. The space was filled with humor, satire, devotion, nuance, soul, emotion, grit, connection, yearning, joy, wonder, and challenge. Seventeen ten-years olds bringing it. There wasn't a dry eye or closed heart in the room by the middle, let alone the end.
The performance transported me back to another classroom in another time and place. While in graduate school in Houston, I taught dance and expressive arts in a multi-cultural arts magnet elementary school. I had the kids performing African dance to Kronos quartet, ballet to Latin music, and modern dance to baroque and West Africans rhythms.
The most memorable performance by far though, the one that brought the audience to tears and to their feet, was the most experimental.
We went deep in dance class; these kids trusted me, and I flat-out loved each and every one of them. Before the oldest kids left elementary school, I knew I had to create a way for them to see the beauty I saw. I decided to spend a semester on spoken word, and to let the whole community see and reflect their brilliance back to them.
I worked with the kids all semester to write spoken word poetry about themselves. Then I had them record their poems. Next, each choreographed their own movement sequence to their poem.
The process I took them through was simple: I had them answer 6 questions. They answered them again and again all semester. They spoke their evolving answers in circle conversations, they moved their answers in silence and with music, and they wrote their answers to the following questions:
All semester long, they challenged one another to go deeper into the questions and the answers. They learned how to critique without judging or shaming. They made art. They discovered their own magnificence.
Each and every kid got up in front of hundreds of parents and grandparents and teachers and siblings, and they brought it. Like in my son’s class, there wasn’t a dry eye or a closed heart in the room.
Today I work with adults who lead companies and ventures. I support them to create aligned impact in the world through identity and brand. I ask them the same questions I asked my students, while challenging them to think, move, and feel more deeply with and through their answers.
Who are you?
Illuminates and liberates all the facets of your multi-dimensional identity. As you answer this question again and again at different times, in different settings, and in different moods, you’ll begin to develop a 360 degree view of yourself. This allows you to expand into and inhabit every inch of your being, a key capacity of impactful leaders.
What do you love?
Points you directly towards purpose, that which motivates you to get out of bed every morning and engage with the world. The more clarity you have about what you love, the more joy you experience and spread, and the more likely others are to get on board with your message and ventures.
What makes you sad?
Sadness is an invitation to grieve what is no longer, express your gratitude for what was, and to let it go, clearing the space to create and let in the new and emerging.
What are you afraid of?
Lets you know what to pay attention to and face. Just naming your fears inspires courage. If you actually face them, watch out world.
What are you angry about?
Lets you know, loud and clear, where your potential for impact lies. Anger is your barometer for change, an invitation to be a catalyst for something different, something better, something more.
What do you dream?
Makes your desire apparent. Giving voice to your desire is a devotional act. Organizing your life around what you are most devoted to is what turns your love, sadness, fear, and anger into fuel for creating meaningful impact in the world.
Start with one question and let the answers come as a stream of consciousness. Repeat tomorrow. And so on and so forth. Your poem—and plan for impact—will write itself before you know it.
To your poem, your impact, and our world,
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