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Words Beyond Walls: a New Initiative at Cole

This post was written by Megan Casimir, a social worker at DSST: Cole and founder of Words Beyond Walls.

I started Words Beyond Walls in August 2020, as a part of a fellowship in an organization called Moonshot Edventures. I started the organization to serve two purposes. One, to provide formerly incarcerated young adults with leadership experience, paid employment, and an opportunity to learn and grow within their communities. Two, to provide younger teens, especially those under justice system supervision, with an opportunity to have a safe and welcoming after school experience led by young adults from their community. In 2020-2021 we ran all virtual programming, focused on building up and supporting the facilitator community.

A team of teachers from Cole and I raised over $8,000 this summer to open an after-school space for Cole MS and HS students, which includes beat-making and music production, visual art, and healing circles. For now, Words Beyond Walls is the pilot program for this space. We are running weekly healing circles after school, which are led by former Cole MS students who are now young adults in the Eastside community. The facilitators are currently being paid by Words Beyond Walls, and the money Cole raised will go towards the music and art programming. At Cole, we hope to launch the after-school music and art programming before the end of September. We also have partnered with Cleo Robinson to provide dance programming, but that’s on hold currently due to COVID restrictions.

The facilitators are incredible. They are currently working on crafting lessons that allow for rich and meaningful discussion and are fun and engaging. They are also working on learning how to hold space for 12-year olds and 17-year olds in the same conversation, which is tricky! They are really amazing young people, and we are beyond fortunate that they are willing to come back and be leaders in their community.