I'm going to break one of the first rules we established during our time together by giving a caveat to my writing, but this time, it really is necessary.  This blog post doesn't do our bond justice. However, I'm overdue in giving an expression of my love in written form, and prose comes to me most naturally these days. Let the record reflect that I called myself writing a poem for each of you before the graduation of our LTAB Champions. Needless to say, that was a failed attempt. So, here I am two years later, trying to make good on expressing what I feel. [end caveat]

You all came into my life when I was adamantly regretting my move to Maryland. The lover and job that beckoned me here all dissipated within two months of my arrival. I was grossly under stimulated, lonely, and feeling purposeless. Then magically, God gave me Contraverse — though I didn't know that's what you all would come to be named, despite my rejected suggestions (#neverforget Lyrical Miracles.) Seemingly out of nowhere, I had opinionated minds and eccentric personalities to exchange with and influence via my new found position as teaching artist.

Every Tuesday I had something to look forward to. Every Tuesday I was tasked with proving I was who I claimed to be, and you all showed up ready to call my bluff. "Oh, you're into poetry? Bet. Spit a poem. You want us to compete in a slam? Let's see you do it first. We should try writing poems in response to things we've read? Choose the books, then. Give us a prompt, and don't let it be a corny one."

Lord, y'all were a challenge. On some days a test of my patience and on others, a safe space for me to share my story while encouraging you to share your own. Though my role was supplementary at best, I watched you all discover your voices. Oh, the irony in being tasked with helping you harness the gift of self expression while working through my own filters. I struggle daily with not getting caught in the comfort zones I intentionally pushed you all beyond. I wanted to show you the power of discussing what was real and true to your experience. That for every score given and line written, no one can rob you of your truth.. and sharing it, fully, can be both powerful and liberating. Hell, I wanted to show my guys (read: Kings in training) that rappers were surely onto something, but you had access to a different type of magic and could still be just as lyrical. That you didn't have to imitate another life, because your story was uniquely yours and every bit worth being told. 

For all the hardships threatening to keep you out of school, let alone a poetry meeting, ya'll pushed through. You put a name to your trials and wrote poems about them. You did the work. Well.. not all the time, but ya'll get my drift. Years passed, some of you graduated, team dynamics changed, children (read: team mascots) were created, and priorities begged to be reassesed. Through it all, y'all rolled with it. Y'all would give me hell as my absence increased but still welcomed me warmly whenever I made my way back.. never letting me forget that I mattered. That I was essential. Even if your delivery came with a chop to the throat and major attitude, because that's just what family does. Family can't be mentioned without noting the teachers who made my presence possible: Newbs and Bolds. Their hearts bleed for you. For the love of you. For the culture. Bolds is the poetry co-parent I never knew I always wanted and puts me to shame, endlessly. He's an entirely different post. 

Nonetheless, as I'm gearing up to enter a different classroom this Tuesday — to make room in my heart for another group of students — I couldn't do so without properly acknowledging the blueprint of my experience with you all and how much it means to me. Ya'll gave me purpose at a time when I was only guessing at what I should be doing. Ya'll were a constant confirmation that there is value in pouring into others, without expectation of return. That the return, is inevitably and undeniably, of greater value. And that relationship building is worth the effort, no matter what differences may suggest otherwise. You all truly helped me discover myself, and I take that with me as I move forward. My love for you, individually and collectively, is special. It's sacred and filled with idiosyncrasies. It's infinite.

Ya'll have won me over, for forever. No matter the distance. No matter the time spent apart. The last four years have your names written all over them, and I can't reflect without experiencing tear filled laughter. You all are my joy. Thank you for that. Thank you for giving me something to say again.