This Moment is a Message: The 826 National Network During COVID-19

May 8, 2020

“Writing is a gift in a time like this. Now is the time to do our best work. This moment is a message. The message is not to stop writing. Write harder. Write more. Write your truth.”  National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson to 826NYC students

At 826, we believe in the power of writing — to help us connect and to heal, to build our understanding of the world, and to help build a better one. Although our writing centers and storefronts are currently closed, we believe that it’s a good time to write, whether on our own, together in video chats, or on our porches. We’re still working towards a country in which the power of writing is accessible to every student in every classroom; those classrooms just happen to look a little different these days.

Across the 826 National Network, our chapters are providing innovative opportunities for young people to write. Here are some powerful examples of how 826 chapters have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic:

826 New Orleans is writing on the wall

With Writing on the Wall, young people are publishing their work right on their front steps. 826 New Orleans staff and volunteers are distributing chart paper, markers, and other writing supplies to students across the city. Every Friday in May, students are responding to writing prompts and displaying their work on windows, front doors, and fences for the city to read.

May 1, for example, was Flashback Friday. 826 New Orleans asked students to share a memory from the past. Walkers, bikers, and other passerbys throughout the city of New Orleans were able to hear directly from students about their memories of a time before quarantine.

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The pieces, which range from a lament of quarantine isolation to the story of a first bike ride, will later be published in a book that captures student voice during this unprecedented moment in history.

826NYC is amplifying quaranTEEN voices

“It is May 1, 2025. Everything is different. Yes, we’re surprisingly alive. We all survived. The air is gray, the sky is a dirty brown-black color. The factories are working harder. The labs are coming up with many things. Medication and cures for all the bad things, like sadness, disease, and madness.” — Vianca Cruz, responding to Spike Jonze’s writing prompt as part of 826NYC’s quaranTEEN voices

Amidst a robust schedule of new virtual programming, 826NYC’s quaranTEEN voices is connecting young writers to notable writers from around the country. Each week, participants receive an email with two writing prompts created or introduced by a guest author. On Fridays, students meet with the guest author to talk about writing, ask questions, and share their writing at the open mic. The program is creating a space for a virtual writing community that places student voice at the forefront. 

Students in the program have had the opportunity to learn from luminaries like Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, filmmaker Spike Jonze, and National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson, who asked students to write with an eye for detail and shared some especially potent advice on writing through these times:

826CHI keeps celebrating new publications

Publication release parties are a crucial part of the 826 approach — after lots of deep, hard work and multiple drafts, students are able to share their work with their community and celebrate. Despite being unable to gather in person, our chapters have continued this important milestone online. A great example is 826CHI’s 2020 Publications Fest, marking the release of three new e-book publications, and honoring Chicago’s newest young authors. 

As part of this year’s Publications Fest, After-School Tutoring & Writing students will be reading aloud from their bilingual chapbook, “Happy as a Rollercoaster // Tan feliz como una montaña rusa”, a book that illuminates and validates the feelings and emotions in young people.

826 MSP and 826 Boston are writing “essential words” to essential workers

Few expressions of gratitude are more meaningful than a personalized letter. In this new lesson at 826 Digital, launched by 826 MSP with their Young Authors’ Council, students reach out to essential workers and return their acts of service and kindness by giving thanks. 826 MSP and 826 Boston have partnered with local hospitals to ensure these letters can reach the local medical workers who can most benefit from hearing from young people during this time.

We’re extending the opportunity to students everywhere. Across The 826 National Network, we’ll be collecting, publishing, and delivering these letters to essential workers across the country, curating a collection of student support and encouragement. After working through the lesson, students can submit their writing for inclusion here.

Across The 826 National Network, we’re writing on:

  • The 826 Boston Youth Literary Advisory Board, representing students from all six 826 Boston Writers’ Rooms, continues to meet weekly via video chat and is at work on a city-wide anthology focused on the topic of self-identity and empowerment during the pandemic.
  • “Writing can aid us in handling anxiety—it’s a comfort and an escape.” 826DC Executive Director Zachary Clark was featured in a recent CNN article about community during the pandemic.  826DC is also gearing up to publish We Matter: Notes from DC’s Generation Z
  • 826LA has been stepping up their digital offerings, creating a Virtual Hub that provides videos and writing resources to keep storytelling alive while we all stay at home.
  • 826 MSP teamed up with a meal distribution program to distribute 150 activity packets to their community. They’re also sharing their own writing prompt videos with their community.
  • 826michigan is posting weekly writing challenges from Dr. Blotch, their nefarious in-house editor, and sharing students’ responses (with commentary!). 
  • As 826 Valencia goes digital, their response to the crisis was recently featured in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. “We know we have a health crisis and a financial crisis,” Executive Director Bita Nazarian told the newspaper. “But I would put an educational crisis right next to that.” 

Together, The 826 National Network is providing free support and platforms for the tens of thousands of students and teachers learning at home today. Inspired to get writing? Check out our A Good Time to Write project for videos, special 826 Digital resources, and opportunities to share your work.

The need for these resources is vast, and is made possible through the generosity of people like you. We know there is a lot of need in our communities in this unprecedented moment, and we deeply appreciate your consideration of a gift of any size to The 826 Today and Tomorrow Fund, which will help prepare 826 for the moment when students once again fill our schools and youth writing centers. We can’t wait to write that future together.

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