Story and photos by Jenifer Tate

There’s an awful lot of talking going on in Mr. Ajamou Butler’s class. And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s encouraged.

“As black men, we are taught to be tough, to hold back tears,” says Butler. “Growing up, that’s how it was for me until I got involved in the ‘spoken word’ when I was in high school at Rufus King.”

Butler writes and speaks often sharing his work at poetry slams (reading and/or poetry competitions) around Milwaukee. This semester, he brings his gift to the Milwaukee Collegiate Academy (MCA) teaching freshmen to express themselves in words.

Spoken word is any oral presentation including poetry, hip-hop, comedy, story-telling and social commentary. It is an art form as ancient as language itself.

“I teach the freshmen to tell a story, and more importantly, I want them to make sense of what is going on around them, to challenge themselves to tap into their gifts and share their thoughts and feelings,” Butler says. In addition, he pulls in lessons from English class by asking students to use techniques such as alliteration, imagery, tone, and personification.

“I have learned to express myself better,” says student Edward King. “This class has helped me sharpen my presentation skills, but it also helps me to calm down when I am having a bad day. When I know how to express myself, I feel better.”

“When I think about our kids and where many of them come from, I know they have their own stories to tell, and yet many times, they are lost for words. With Mr. Bulter, they are learning to manipulate words and develop a powerful way to express themselves to an audience,” says Ms. Judith Parker, principal at MCA.

A grant from The Roberts Family Foundation makes the spoken word class possible. In addition, MCA offers a dance class with the similar goal of helping students find healthy ways of expressing themselves.