Mythologist makes Akron visit
— Michael Meade is an author who studies storytelling and mythology, but unlike an historian, he applies these ancient disciplines to modern social problems, offering young people a visible platform to express themselves.
He recently visited Akron and spent a considerable amount of time working with at-risk youth here, which culminated at the recent Voices of Youth event at City of Joy Church, on West Exchange Street.
Meade began the program by reciting a story called “10,000 Years Old,” about a village that gets torn in half.
Referring to the African adage, “it takes a village to raise a child,” Meade said there’s another part to the truism. “If you don’t welcome young people fully into life, they’ll burn the village down,” said Meade. “When you have a culture that is oppressive or unjust toward certain people, you’re risking losing all possibility of a village.”
Meade has traveled the country, creating a forum for the youth’s opinions and viewpoints. At the Akron event, he created a safe haven so that the teens could express themselves openly. “Young people don’t feel seen for who they really are,” said Meade to the audience. “In a sense, it’s an attempt to have a community for one night.”
The Voices of Youth event was cosponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Alchemy Inc., a local nonprofit whose mission is similar to Meade’s — using myth, storytelling and tribal drumming to help young people find their place in society. Many of Alchemy’s sessions focus on helping urban youth develop a sense of purpose and a means to express themselves, and many stay with the program for years.
Meade, and Alchemy Inc., use myth and storytelling to help young people take control of their own life’s narrative.
In the week he spent in Akron, Meade met with a number of young people, many from troubled homes and urban neighborhoods. Meade would tell them a story, and the young people would write responses and tie the story to situations in their own lives.
The poems recited at the Voices of Youth event were raw and emotional, like one young woman who said she was angry at her father, who wasn’t there for her, and he eventually developed schizophrenia. She went on to say she will be successful regardless of the lack of support she receives at home. Another young woman recited a poem about witnessing too much cruelty. One teen spoke about growing up around substance abuse, violence and abandonment. “When will I no longer have these struggles?” he asked.
Another young man said he used to look up to so-called thugs and gangsters, but now he looks up to people who have jobs, houses and stability. “I have new role models,” he said.
Along with offering these young people a platform to be heard and express their concerns, Meade interlaced the pieces of creative writing with drumming and storytelling (see video below).
Meade also engaged the young people and audience members with tribal songs from West Africa, which he said helps open meaningful , calling on the ancestors to protect an inspire everyone.
Many of the teenagers at the Voices of Youth event were reading their poetry for the first time and Meade was supportive of their bravery and efforts. He spent much of the presentation stressing that it’s important to let these young people be heard.