“In my lifetime I have seen many things”

Hip-hop, family and the future: SN&R and 916 Ink give voice to south Sacramento's young boys and men of color

Shomara “Issa” Jackson

Shomara “Issa” Jackson

All photos by Shoka

About 916 Ink

916 Ink is an arts-based literacy nonprofit in Sacramento that holds workshops to turn kids into published authors via teams of trained volunteers who work in schools, libraries, nonprofits and detention facilities. The group, which works with students ages 4-18, makes it its mission to empower students in the Sacramento region with creative writing. Since its inception in 2011, 916 Ink has published more than 1,000 young people in 36 different publications. Learn more at www.916ink.org.

Members of 916 Ink's M.I.C.'ed Up! workshop will read at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 14, at the Brickhouse Gallery, 2837 36th Street. No cover.

Words. They’re free and unlimited, but sometimes they’re the most valuable things a person possesses.

Words shape ideas. Words give voice. Words are power.

The people at 916 Ink understand this—it’s just one reason the arts-based literacy nonprofit teaches writing workshops for Sacramento-area students. It’s also why they put their students’ words to paper, regularly publishing books of collected works and hosting literary readings to share those words with an audience.

One such anthology, The Enchanted Noise of Crooked Names, came out of the result of the M.I.C.’ed Up! program, led by local poets Marichal Brown and Vincent Kobelt. The book features prose and poetry from seventh- through 12th-grade boys and young men of color from the south Sacramento area. In all, more than 50 students participated with funding provided by the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative. Workshop members will read their poetry on Tuesday, October 14, at the Brickhouse Gallery.

The writings took shape over the course of several months earlier this spring as the students met regularly at various schools, the Oak Park Community Center and the Brickhouse Gallery. The workshop’s curriculum, according to Brown, was “created around the language of hip-hop.”

Or, as he writes in the book’s introduction: “The plan [was] to introduce the youth to poetry through the way of hip-hop … [which] plays a major part in the lives of young people of color throughout our global community.”

Many of the students had never written poetry before but, says Kobelt, the students embraced their assignments with passion.

“The word is our medium and what the word is—when it hits the page—is art and sound, joined together to express thoughts and concepts, to communicate meaning and understanding,” he says. “We write then to express ourselves and to get a glimpse of whom we are and we read to relate to others and to get understanding of the numerous relationships that people are engaged in.”

916 Ink founder and executive director Katie McCleary explains it this way:

“Young men of color often suffer from a variety of injustices, including disproportionate poverty rates, school suspension and expulsion rates, poor health outcomes, and incarceration rates,” she says. “At the end of the day, the act of writing, and reading, creates empathy.”

Following are poems from seven M.I.C.’ed Up! participants, all exclusive to SN&R. With topics touching on family, ambitions, personal expectations and relationships, they’re at once powerful and personal, political and provocative, deeply honest, musical and moving.

Shomari “Issa” Jackson

Age: 17

Secret talent: I was the school mascot last year. I also can act a little bit.

Idea of perfect happiness: Walking with God and keeping family close.

Personal hero: Ashanti Jackson, my big brother, because he stays motivated and is always a person I can go to when things really bother me.

When I grow up I want to: Teach the world through words and lyrics.


I got a father, 3 sisters,

a bro, and a mother

but what’s missing in

this picture is my own

twin brother a clone,

my mamas gut was me

and his home

but home killed my

bro which left me


“im sorry that the

world will never get to

meet ya”

God said shake it off

so when I was young I

had a seizure

cautiously watched

while going to bed

always thought

something’s missing

but that explains the

hole in my head its

birth defects

born with bad

penmanship, they say

im disabled write like

a baby, this pens

meant for me to cradle

he said “bro im not

gone’ make it the


as my mom screams to

God don’t take him


he touched her cheek

and said “im still your

child but im on my

way to peace

Issa needs you now

he’s in this world to

make you proud”

that’s why im standing

on this stage spittin

poems loud premature

born 4 pounds just out

of 14 ounce… wow

they say small things

come in big packs

they never said It

causes damage to ya

mamas back that’s not

the fact the fact that

it’s a wrap… literally

with umbilical cord

around his neck all

because we was kickin

see, we was kickin

because it was a race

to see our mamas face

but too much energy

through the chords

was sparkin out of

place but hes dead

because we was kickin

so if that’s the case

then my boys asked if

we was gonna “kick

Elston Hardin

It” today

I said “nah tryin out

for soccer teams never

worked” I got cut

scared to kick it

if all shoes was called

kicks I’d wear socks

theres a reason why I

don’t kick in a fight

that’s why I box

and ill be DAMNED

if somebody told me

to leave scratch that if

they told me to “kick


as an infant I was

hooked up to more

wires than a cable box

it took a while for me

to come home

still struggling to live

as he rest his body

under a tombstone

theres a reason with

the four pounds he


It stands for…

Lifeless Before


and its love when they

got hope for you

but even hope don’t

got room cause then

there wasn’t hope for


my older brother

stayed focused dude

im missing one so you

could kinda

understand why im so

close to you but

divorce caused a rage

so im taming a beast

angered inside of me

I used to snap more

than a crowd watchin

a poetry piece

so naturally I don’t

like separation

my family separated

leaving me stuck with

bullshhhhhh that’s


all im tryna say is

everybody has a story

so tell it the right way

get a pad and a pen

and you could write


and all I gotta say is I

got a father 3 sisters a

bro and a mother but

whats missing in this

picture is my own

twin brother.

Elston Hardin

Age: 15

Secret talent: I can hold my breath for one minute and 30 seconds.

Idea of perfect happiness: Sitting on my front porch on a cloudy day.

Personal hero: My mom, because she's always encouraged me to be the best I can be and then some.When I grow up I want to: Write more books!

“At this Table”

At this table I learned to talk.

I learned to listen and forgive.

To hate and appreciate what I have, have had, and don’t have.

At this table I have a family.

A joking, kidding, hurt-but-now-healing,

broken-but-now-mending family.

People I care about yet don’t really know.

I wonder If they care too.

At this table I learned a lot of things,

that will make a grown man scream or

an actor skip a scene.

At this table I found a new family

for a while.

At this table our voices are heard.

They can be shared and

Rodney “RoRo” Brown

not stared at like outlaws.

At this table we grow,

we blossom,

we become the unthinkable.

At this table

we stand and

fight for what we truly believe in.

At this table we take the yes and

destroy the no.

I mean we really beat the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of no, and

make him say yes.

We are warriors at this table.

We are leaders, humans, with our own voices and

it’s time to lead our future generation.

Rodney “RoRo” Brown

Age: 12

Secret talent: Poetry.

Idea of perfect happiness: Family.

Personal hero: Barack Obama, because he was the first black president and he leads people.

When I grow up I want to: Go into engineering because I enjoy math and dealing with angles.

“In My Life Time”

In my lifetime, I have

seen many things.

From hatred,

prejudice, to Obama,

the American Dream.

I have seen Hip Hop

take over and soldiers

die at war.

Gangs kill each other,

Oscar Grant die at the

hands of another, the

news never a bore.

I have prayed so hard,

my poor little knees

are sore!

I did not see nor hear,

the ’60s and ’70s

anthem, Black Power.

I did see the outcome

of Hurricane Katrina,

and the falling of the


Born way after the

’80s AIDS epidemic,

the inner city crack

epidemic. Even

though the other day

I witnessed a 17 year

old’s reaction,

to being born with

crack in his system.

The other day I saw a

man with no arms, and

one leg in the store.

I listened as he

explained how he lost

it in the Iraq War.

The part I didn’t get

was this, he’s a

Veteran; America is

his home,

but he was broke and


I’ve seen racial

tensions, I’ve seen the

economy fall quickly,

I’ve seen families fall

apart after the elderly

fall sickly.

I’ve seen Murder,

Mayhem, Corruption,

and Scooby Doo

through the T.V.

But I will not fall,

because I see Family.

Thank you Family,

thank you for GOD.

As in those famous

words, I Have a


In my 12 years of


you can only imagine What I Have Seen!

Kartik Singh

Age: 12

Secret talent: I draw things in nature and play the piano.

Le’on Abbot

Idea of perfect happiness: Making others happy.

Personal hero: My dad, because he takes me everywhere and gets me anything I want.

When I grow up I want to: Be an engineer because I like building stuff.

“I Am Poem”

I am a kind, loving, young, big, silly brother.

I wonder if I will grow?

I hear people talking at home.

I see people sad and happy everywhere I go.

I want my life to be simpler.

I am a kind, loving, young, big, silly brother.

I pretend I am an engineer at home.

I feel protected by my friends, family, and teachers.

I touch bags filled with tons of candy,

I worry that I might die.

I cry when someone dies.

I am a kind, loving, young, big, silly brother.

I understand I am annoying.

I say everyone is something.

I try to be brave when I am in the dark.

I dream to be someone special.

I hope to be a kind loving son to my parents.

I am a kind, loving, young, big, silly brother.

Lea’on Abbot

Age: 13

Secret talent: Playing video games.

Idea of perfect happiness: Chilling and talking out your problems.

Personal hero: My dad, because most parents would let their kids do whatever they want, but he helps me with my homework and works out any problems I have.

When I grow up I want to: Join the Marine Corps because my uncle was in the Army and my dad was in the Army and I want to be a Marine and break that line of Army men.


I’m like a rapper that snaps like candy

wrapper. I’m like math; I’m wondering

how many times I filled the bath.

I’m like cash that is smashed and stashed.

I’m like digital camo ready to hide so nobody knows.

I’m like a puppet in a show although that’s really all you

need to know.

Simranjeet Benipal

Age: 17

Secret talent: To perform under pressure.

Idea of perfect happiness: Making my family happy, being healthy and studying hard.

Personal hero: Hrithik Roshan. When I was a child I used to watch his movies and he's pretty well built, and during my teenage years I chose to get in shape and I found him inspiring.

When I grow up I want to: Be successful, happily married, and live with no regrets.


I once thought thee an everlasting high.

Like a bird, I thought, I am free.

Yet I stand wondering, remaining shy,

if thou art the problem or me.

Similar interests. Similar ambitions. Ideal.Millions, strike that, billions of targets, fling thy dart.

So many options, my heart she did steal.

Hated past in hopes of a new start.

Move on, move on, they say,

to other fish. Not personable just lean.As I look on, for another rare fish in the bay

to the end of the horizons, no match is seen.

As long as I am here, I will wait.

But I lurk behind helplessly, dreading my mind’s estate.

Michael Halley

Age: 17

Secret talent: Writing! Especially poetry and prose. I can string together words into a rhythmic pattern.

Idea of perfect happiness: A comfortable lifestyle with a well-paying career that highlights my talent, plus a modern family in the suburbs.

Personal hero: Vsauce, a YouTuber who educates and entertains his audience on common and uncommon worldly issues.

When I grow up I want to: Be an entertainer and a businessman and an educator. I want the ability to interact socially with others and provide a venue of excitement, wonder and individuality.


Hear the world through my ears

Smell the world through my nose

Taste the world through my tongue

Allow the euphoria to wash over like waves on the beach

calm and refined

a butterfly in the rain

a snowflake in the summer.

Glazed eyes, acute mind

standing in a crowd

yet nowhere to be found


Oppression of lies

Revelation of truth

Dawn of night and dusk of day

Lips of the mute

Pencil loquacious

Respectively ambiguous

Yet, delirious

Somehow taken serious

Emotions written are furious


Open mind is curious

Rationality and technicalities

Spell the world’s reality

Taketh thy hand

Capture scribe truly grand

An internal play

A soliloquy

Such is the meaning of poetry.