CLEVELAND — Creatives Morgan Shorts and Calil Cage know firsthand the benefits of expressing themselves through poetry and the spoken word. To bring that benefit to more people, they created the nonprofits “Poetry Unplugged” and “The Sparrow's Fortune,” which both launched last year.
“I love poetry and spoken word because when I was young it was my safe space,” Cage said. “For a lot of people who are in the arts, a lot of times it’s the only place you could go to and feel seen or feel heard. And for me, poetry was a place where I could run to my notebook when I couldn’t tell anybody else.”
Cage’s concept,“The Sparrow's Fortune,” teaches people how to write poetry.
“Our ultimate goal and our mission is to inspire, educate, and encourage our community through arts, entertainment, and creative writing workshops,” Cage said.
Shorts and her co-founder, Tom Parker, who created the conccept for “Poetry Unplugged,” gives people a stage to perform.
“This is a community for everyone. So singers, rappers, spoken word artists,” Shorts said. “Anyone can come, even if you just want to listen, this is a place where everybody is accepted.”
Events are hosted throughout the city where the founders create spaces for people of all experience levels to be limitless and to express themselves in healthy ways.
“Being able to come somewhere and feel like we're part of a family, private community, outside of our household, it just helps us to be able to feel like we're needed somewhere because a lot of the time we see on the news and stuff like that, that we're not, our lives are not valued,” Shorts said.
For participant DeDrianna Hammett, it’s a way to vent and get things off her chest.
“If you can't afford a therapist, I encourage you to come here. It's like a free therapy session. They give you a family home living room vibe,” Hammett said. “I don't care what you write. Poetry, journal entries, songs, freestyle and just releasing, a healthy release is what I encourage. Don't hold it in.”
Especially for Black and brown communities, she said having spaces like the ones provided through the nonprofits is important. Historically Black and brown communities haven’t been encouraged to prioritize mental health.
“When you talk about things like therapy in the Black community, a lot of people look down on it,” Hammett said. “And sadly, a lot of Black and brown people, they feel discouraged to do those type of things. So yeah, I feel like we need this outlet.”
For Cage, part of his mission is also expanding literacy in the Cleveland community. In 2019, 66% of Cleveland residents were functionally illiterate, according to Seeds of Literacy, meaning people can still parent, work and function, but don't really have the reading, writing and math skills to prosper in society.
Writing and literacy is fundamental to being able to create and make change in a community, Cage said. Along with giving people a healthy outlet to express themselves, he wants to help set them up to succeed and lead in positions of power.
“About 50% of Cleveland adults are about a seventh grade reading level, right? So being able to bring that avenue of artistry to literacy and allowing other people to recognize that sometimes there'll be moments where we don't want to read a full book, right, but we can communicate with each other, and have a fun way of learning how to comprehend or build our comprehension, even as adults,” he said.
Shorts and Cage said they live by the motto “Silence decays the body,” meaning when our emotions are trapped, it can bring pain to our physical body.
“When we are in those moments where our emotions aren’t spoken out, we tend to hide ourselves and we don't, we put ourselves in those boxes, and we kind of, we might shame ourselves, we might guilt ourselves and those types of emotions are heartbreaking,” Cage said.
They’re making sure people have spaces to properly process their emotions and speak out.