Nashville, TN

Find out more about the Southern Word

Lenny Schumacher

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NASHVILLE, TN — Southern Word was founded in 2008 on the basis of successful spoken word youth development and education strategies. Educators, youth development professionals, writers and poets built the organization from the ground up without significant institutional or investor support at the outset. Last year, it served over 6,000 youth, 43 schools and 8 Tennessee counties as a national, non-profit leader in spoken word education.

Since the program is passionate about empowering youth to find their voices and shape their own futures, it has expanded its programming to include music production and writing in all genres. In a culture that aggressively markets products and lifestyles to youth, Southern Word empowers youth to move from being passive consumers to active thinkers, creators and projectors of their own positive identity.

Southern Word understands the society's shortcomings in terms of youth engagement, literacy, diversity and mental health as a result of guiding and hearing the stories of tens of thousands of youth. It is effectively addressing some of the most vexing educational and youth development issues.

Mission of the Southern Word

Southern Word provides creative solutions for youth to improve their literacy and presentation skills, reconnect with their education and lives and act as leaders in the improvement of their communities, through the literary and performing arts. It is committed to giving youth, particularly those from underserved communities, as many opportunities as possible to develop and publicly present their voices in print, video, audio and digital media.

Southern Word’s Validation

Southern Word is thought to be the Southeast's largest spoken word youth development and education organization.

Through Brave New Voices, Southern Word was chosen as one of sixteen organizations to serve on a national spoken word leadership cohort.

Southern Word's high school residency program was evaluated independently by Vanderbilt University, in collaboration with Metro Nashville public schools. Pre- and post-tests, teacher focus groups, student focus groups and classroom observation were all part of the evaluation. The study reports that:

  1. According to teachers, the program improves student engagement, perceived emotional safety, writing and speaking skills, active social and emotional learning and classroom climate.
  2. According to students, the program increases engagement, confidence, a more proficient command of the language, confidence in writing ability, improved classroom climate, greater connection to peers, improved relationships with teachers and a better understanding of their classmates.

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