Hip-Hop and Martial Arts
. . .
I recently held a manga and comic book-based poetry workshop over at St.Pete’s renowned indie bookstore Tombolo Books. It was an effort to connect and share the efforts of The Battleground, a youth program I founded, with the wider Tampa Bay community.
I founded The Battleground back in 2017 after I was present at a series of teen gun shootings in a historically marginalized Tampa neighborhood. Through interacting with and observing the youth of this community, I decided to create a program that utilizes poetry, hip-hop and martial arts to address the mind, body and spirit of each individual.
It was important for me to include the input of the youth themselves, since the program was for them. After I was joined by an amazing local martial arts teacher, Garret Brumfield of Tampa Wing Chun Kung Fu, we launched weekly programming from September 2018 through March 2020.
The Battleground quickly gained community support and welcomed many participants. Over the course of our program, we served approximately 220 young people in total, among which a core group of regularly attending youth developed.
This grassroots effort was nothing fancy – just me and Garret showing up every week with some snacks and water along with our skills and passion. The youth themselves quickly exerted ownership over the program, some arriving early to help set-up even without being asked, others naturally staying back afterwards to help clean up and carry supplies back to the car.
We went on to form a partnership with the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, a coalition of several neighborhood service providers including the United Way, City of Tampa and YMCA.
Together with this coalition, The Battleground co-created and co-sponsored a neighborhood-wide arts and literacy festival with over 500 people in attendance. This was the first of this kind of event held in that community.
However, not long after this event, the pandemic caused us to lose our regular meeting place. The local library where we held our sessions was no longer allowing any kind of public meetings and so, like most other programs and endeavors, we had to pause then pivot.
I slowly began gathering the core group of youth to do what I called “mobile sessions” which consisted of holding the poetry side of The Battleground at various local venues and outdoor locations. Because our location was now continually in flux, I thought it would be best to frame our mobile sessions based on a consistent and collaborative project.
Many of the core Battleground youth love anime and manga, so I thought of doing a project in which youth could create their own manga/comic book-style narrative written with poetry and martial arts elements. Since a couple of the youth also happen to be talented visual artists, they became the illustrators for a story which features characters based on themselves.
We are now on the final stage of completing our illustrated project! This ‘zine-like final product containing elements of manga, comic and graphic novel, will be printed by PRINT St.Pete, a small community print shop and studio – and available for purchase to benefit the youth who created it and the costs of our program.
Ultimately, doing this project has been about perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, never giving up on what both myself and these young people set out to do – empower the community through writing, owning and sharing our own stories.
I’d like to share this poem written by one of the youth during our workshop at Tombolo, which I feel expresses the path and spirit of The Battleground program perfectly –
Though the world is cruel and hard,
I’ve had fun times in it.
Although there may be ignorant people
who upset and disturb my peace of mind,
I’ve met amazing and beautiful people.
I plan to watch my sister grow,
to watch her emerge from her cocoon
like the beautiful butterfly she’s to become.
I hope to shower the people I love with affection
like the rain does in the Everglades.
You can follow The Battleground youth program’s efforts on Instagram at TheBattlegroundSulphurSprings.