For these youths, hip
is a key to self-discovery
has been a local columnist for the Democrat and
Chronicle since 1997. Before that, he was
editorial page editor for the afternoon Times-Union, and
before that deputy editorial page editor for the Democrat and
Chronicle. He began his career there as a
reporter in 1984. He is a native of Owego, Tioga
County. He is a graduate of St. John Fisher College
and the State University at Brockport. He was a high
school teacher for six years before switching to
(September 10, 2006) — "I don't
expect to change things for them," says Dale
Davis. "I hope to give them a
moment of grace."
Davis, of Fairport, teaches writing.
For almost 30 years, she's been working with high-risk
adolescents — in the county jail or children's detention center,
or at St. Joseph's Villa, or alternative schools.
SCHULTE staff photographer
Dale Davis of
Fairport has taught writing for almost 30 years
to high-risk adolescents.
She believes that writing is one
of the tools we need to make a better life — not just to get a
job, but to make sense of the world and our place in it.
She takes her students where they
are. Her medium is hip hop — "the most powerful form of
communication there is for young people," she says. Even street
kids who can barely read or write can rhyme and can tell a
story, she says.
The writing program, The
Communication Project, is run by the New York State Literacy
Center, which Davis co-founded in 1979, and is funded by the
National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council
on the Arts.
Over the years, Davis' students
have showcased their work on CDs and in small picture books.
"They want a voice," she says. "They want people to listen."
Hip hop is not an end in itself,
but the means to an end. There is a connection between violence
and a shortage of language skills. Language helps us define our
world and control it. Without it, we have chaos — which is
fertile ground for violence.
"I'm not Kanye West," she tells
them. "But he's not coming here. You'll have to work with an old
white woman." And they do.
She encourages them to write
rap lyrics, "but there are boundaries," which is part of the
lesson. Davis wants them to write about life in Rochester, but
they cannot celebrate guns or violence or sexual exploitation.
Their writing is true to their
lives. It is not always uplifting. Here are a few examples.
From a song titled, "These are My Final Words:"
I do not fear
My age is twenty,
and I don't think I will ever know
death is near.
And when I die
spirit will be free as a bird.
You don't have to read this twice
because these are my final words.
This is from "Why I write:"
I write to relieve
to take away the pain,
to not keep things in...
My mom and dad were on drugs
My mom and dad
never paid any attention to
Every night they brought me everything I
precious thing I needed
was their love.
Another explains in a letter why he wants to write:
"When I write I think about my dreams becoming reality ... So I
write 'cause I know if I write about everything, how can the
pain remain? It can't. It won't. 'Cause when I write, I shall
never fall! I'll tell the world that I'm a winner no matter
Writing is a tool; it's an
opportunity. When they first start to put their words on paper,
the lyrics are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. "I
put them all in the computer; I fix all of them and return
them," Davis says. "I don't correct the students."
But she wants them to learn the
rules because proper grammar and spelling enable readers to
Writing is hope. "It's their first
chance at reflective thinking," she says. "On the streets, it's
hustle all the time. No time to think."
There are no guarantees of
success for these students, just a chance. A chance they've
never had before.