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Street Poets Inc. demonstrates the power of words, both written and spoken

Juliana D. Norwood | 12/21/2011, 5 p.m.

In 1995, Street Poets Inc. founder Chris Henrikson began teaching a weekly poetry workshop in the Los Angeles County Probation Department's Camp Fred Miller as a volunteer through the Writers Guild of America. The experience transformed his life, and, in the process, Street Poets United, a grassroots poetry collective for the workshop alumni, was born.

In 1997, the group joined forces with the New York City-based DreamYard Drama Project to form DreamYard/LA.

"Street Poets worked under the DreamYard umbrella from 1997 to 2005 when we made the decision to reclaim our original name and become Street Poets Inc.," said Henrikson, "Now, with our own independent 501c3 status, we continue to provide transformational workshops for youth and young adults at schools and juvenile detention sites throughout Los Angeles, while expanding our peace-making work in the community."

Street Poets Inc.'s violence prevention-themed poetry performance group, composed of formerly incarcerated workshop alumni and staff, performs at schools, youth justice and peace conferences, and juvenile detention facilities throughout the county and beyond. The group's original performance is a celebration of the transformational power of the written word. Since their first show at the Los Angeles Theater Center in 1998, Street Poets Inc. has performed more than a hundred times for thousands of at-risk youth and young adults from downtown Los Angeles all the way to Europe.

"Our mission is to inspire at-risk youth in the juvenile detention facilities, schools and streets of Los Angeles County to discover and develop their voices as writers, artists and human beings, and empower these young people to use the skills and increased self-awareness engendered through the arts to transcend self-destructive lifestyles," said Henrikson. "We want to create a healing community that unites different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic segments of our city around the transformational power of the creative process."

Street Poets Inc. makes an impact by inspiring youth to tell their stories, explore their gifts and wounds, and develop their authentic voices through writing. In addition to poetry workshops, the group also leads African Drumming/Spoken-Word workshops at various sites in collaboration with the Afro-Latin-centered band Rhythm Tribe.

The nonprofit hosts quarterly open-mic poetry events--Community Soul Circles--for students, workshop alumni, staff, volunteers, family and friends. These events showcase emerging poetic voices while creating a space in which emotional openness and honesty are not only encouraged but celebrated. Henrikson believes that as the gap between rich and poor and different ethnic groups continues to widen in our city, creative communities like Streets Poets Inc., founded on truths that transcend race, class and creed will become increasingly important.

Street Poets Inc. is partially funded by a number of corporations and survives on the donations from individuals in the community who want to see the work the organization does continue to change lives. "Some youth come to Street Poets through our juvenile detention camp workshops.

Some come through our rapidly expanding school outreach programs, and some come straight off the streets," said Henrikson. "But they all share one thing in common: a deep need to be seen and heard. As school budgets plummet, and public education becomes increasingly standardized, this need has never been greater. Street Poets breathes lifesaving inspiration and imagination back into educational and juvenile detention systems desperately in need of both, while providing a creative community to which our students can connect for mentoring and support."

The organization asks that the community make a tax-deductible donation this holiday season to help Street Poets raise the $77,000 they need to keep their school writing workshops thriving and their recording studio doors open to the youth of Los Angeles. To donate and learn more information about Street Poets Inc., visit the organization's website at www.streetpoetsinc.com.