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Growing Up on the Block

On May 22, 2014, Writers Block Ink celebrated its 10-year anniversary. From humble beginnings at its founder’s kitchen table, the Block has gone on to change the lives of over 1,000 students in New London through writing and the performing arts.

Writers Block Ink’s motto is “Igniting social change on the page and stage.” At its anniversary celebration, students past and present will put on some of the Block’s most memorable performances from the last 10 years. Now, the organization is looking to embody this motto in new ways in the years to come.

Jodi Kelly, the program’s new executive director, and Attallah Sheppard, one of its founding members, have seen firsthand how the Block has changed the lives of young people in New London. An actress, director, and producer in New York, Kelly is a perfect mix of her passions—working with teens, working with nonprofits, and the performing arts—at Writers Block. She found herself completely captivated after watching her first performance.

“I actually said I’d stay for half of it and leave at intermission, but the kids were so passionate that I never left.”

This passion isn’t surprising. Everything is student-led: “Rather than the adults deciding what they want to learn, they decide what they want to learn…. They’re not learning lines to a play that’s been done a million times,” Kelly says. “They’ve written them, and they believe them, and they want to tell the story to you.”

And this passion doesn’t fade. “Almost all the past members have gone on to either work with students or work with art, Sheppard explains. “They become teachers, art consultants, brand managers for artists, and set up nonprofits of their own.”

For many students, the Block becomes a second family. They hang out and collaborate outside of their sessions. Most remain members for all 10 years. The Block’s lobby is decorated with their photos, framed in different colors depending on whether they became Block captains, instructors, or creative directors.

This sense of family and history encourages students to become leaders. “Even though our mission is to help the kids learn how to express themselves, really,the underlying work that’s done is youth leadership,” says Kelly.

“What we really do is find the young leaders of this generation, for their next generation,” says Sheppard.

Now, Writers Block is hoping to expand. Sessions are inexpensive, and there are numerous scholarships. They’re not just looking for students who are interested in performance, but also those who are interested in the business behind performance. They’re also always on the lookout for instructors in writing, singing, acting, dancing, spoken word, etc.

For more information, visit www.writersblockink.org. Here’s a poem by one of the Writers Block students:

Kleenex® Can’t Stop Demons

I see demons
Am I dreaming, or am I seeing what I’m thinking?
Are they creeping where I’m sleeping?
who is the real demon.
Cause you see there are two types that are killing.
Mean men and free men
The distinction between them is that free men have a reason
But does that distinction give direction to where we want to be leaded? I can’t believe it, cause if you cream them with no meaning
Or for a reason either way it wasn’t needed
And either way we all are bleeding.
In the end you can’t clean it
It’s a sin that can’t be deleted because you see
Can’t stop demons

Isaiah General, Age 16 | Attends Norwich Tech | WB member since 2009

Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Writers Block

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