A sense of completion after a job well done is important to all of us. After four years of school, we celebrate with a graduation. After finishing a project, we might have a nice dinner. These celebrations cement our accomplishments into our personal narratives and provide us with concrete examples for how we are capable individuals.
Many of the youth we work with don’t feel that way. They may not have many examples of success in their backgrounds. Some never finished high school. For some, Zine is their first real job. Some may have had successes, but no one there to acknowledge them. For one young woman, she made it through high school but on graduation day, when her name was called, no one was there to cheer for her. She got a ride home and a trip to Burger King.
Without acknowledgement, it’s hard for us to feel like what we do matters.
After working and writing and learning for eight weeks, Ziners have done a lot of work. They’ve hammered out poems, tightened sentence grammar, and rendered their points of view on paper. With personal zines and their group zine produced and ready to share with their world, there’s cause to celebrate and gather.
A small gathering of family members, friends, and service providers assemble at a church across the alley from UDYC. The Ziners enter and get an applause.
In front of the gathering—usually numbering from around ten to fifteen—each Ziner introduces themselves and shares a poem or two.
“I was nervous at first,” said one youth we call Darren. “But it got easier as I started talking.”
These are youth largely without public speaking experience sharing writing that more often than not contains tales of neglect, addiction, and illness. Poems of gratitude and confession are common. So are pieces containing love and anger, strength and weakness, cynicism and hope. There are tears. There’s often laughter. And with whatever emotion they’re projecting, the youth are not alone. They are often surprised to find others empathizing and validating their experiences.
“I was surprised by what I shared—I feel like they all got something out of it,” said James.
“I haven’t shared my writing before. Mainly because I was embarrassed by it,” admitted Darren.
“I enjoyed it. I liked talking and showing them something new,” James added.
“It was very informal. That made it easy,” said Jack.
After their reading, the youth break up and set up shop. Each youth gets his or her own station from which to sell their zines. Guests can meet each Ziner, ask them questions and buy zines—a highlight for one young man.
“Some lady was like ‘I really liked your writing. Can you sign your Zine for me?’ It was awesome.”
That lady was Karen Ko—a Neighborhood District Coordinator with the City of Seattle. A few weeks later, Karen got that same Zine group a reading in front of the mayor (click here to read more). Awesome indeed.
After the last word is read and zine sold, we take the Ziners out to lunch.
“I feel good. I really do,” said Darren. “I’ve completed something I can feel relatively proud of.”
“It’s a real comfortable feeling,” said Jacob.
“Having completing something long term—which I don’t do very often—I feel pretty damn good too,” said Jack.
Jack did notice as she was reading her Zine that she had some grammar errors. “The work’s never finished,” she commented.
And she’s right. Graduations are often called Commencements—literally a new beginning. Graduations celebrate the end of one effort and signal the beginning of another.
For two out of four of the last graduating Zine Group, this new effort was a paid position elsewhere. For the others, this new effort was a job search. For us, it meant getting ready for another group of young writers.
The work is perpetual. It renews like seasons. But so too renews the hope of accomplishment. And with Zine as a notch on their belt and a bullet point on their resume, that hope is all the more palpable.
By now, a new group of Ziners is ready. They graduate next Friday, March 16th at and their success would be magnified by anyone able to attend. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested and I can send you more information.