“We want to show that we are aware of the social problems affecting us and our communities and that we yearn for imminent change to happen.”
—Ysatti, Christofer, Laisha, and Maria, the Student Editorial Board of 826 Boston’s My Generation Can
At 826 chapters, young people become published authors, their words featured in beautiful publications that can sit side by side on the shelf with any best-seller. These publications contain poetry, prose, fiction, and essays, in which students write creatively, confidently, and in their own voices about the topics that matter to them. Our students have powerful things to say—our books honor that. This 826 Day, and throughout the back-to-school season, we’ll be spotlighting this inspiring work happening across The 826 Network.
Last year alone, The 826 Network’s nine chapters created over 1,000 publications, ranging from quarterlies, compendiums, and chapbooks, to newspapers and zines. While publishing is a cornerstone throughout all 826 programming, the Young Authors’ Book Project (YABP) exemplifies 826’s approach to fostering and amplifying youth voice.
Each year, our chapters bring together a class from a local school with professional writers, editors, illustrators, and designers, spending several months writing on a particular theme and collaborating with volunteers throughout the publishing process. Once the project is complete, students, volunteers, and families celebrate with a community book release party, in which students read excerpts from their work.
This year’s YABPs include books like 826 Boston’s My Generation Can, a collection of public narratives for community change by twelfth graders at Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers; 826CHI’s Let Us Keep What We Love, sharing a wide variety of writing by their Teen Writers Studio; 826NYC’s All I Have to Say, featuring memoirs by students at the High School of Fashion Industries; and 826michigan’s Because No One Else Could Do It, in which Ypsilanti Community High School students express their insight and experience through images and stories. These collections highlight the complex issues and ideas that young people around the country are grappling with, exemplify the unique role they play in sparking dialogue, and ensure their words influence ever-wider audiences.
Collaboration is key to a successful YABP. 826 chapters identify educators excited by the potential of bringing their students’ words into print and serve as a conduit to their city’s writing community. 826 Valencia’s The Freedom to Live Without Fear, for instance, was a partnership with a longtime teacher partner at Mission High School, Catherine Reyes, and her two ethnic studies classes. Students began the project by reading and discussing Nikky Finney’s poem, “The Battle of and for the Black Face Boy.” Finney visited the classes at the start of the project to talk about her writing process, share more of her work, and inspire the students as they began to craft their own responses to a prompt on the theme of “freedom.”
Similarly, for 826DC’s We Matter: Notes from DC’s Generation Z, 826DC staff, volunteers, and DC-area journalists offered students support and insight throughout the writing process. The students learned about the power of developing their own voices and style from Jolie Doggett of the Huffington Post, about asking interview questions from Shawna Thomas of VICE, and about writing about themselves in a personal column from Sam PK Collins of the Washington Informer. As students moved into the research phase of their writing, they also had the opportunity to engage with artifacts at the Library of Congress in a special visit just for their class.
826 chapters design YABPs to ensure they’re responsive to and reflective of student interest. 826 New Orleans’s We the Almighty began with a call-to-action in the classroom when a student asked her teacher about the “Real Black history. Real things that happened to Black people. Not just what y’all tell us.” In partnering with 826, over sixty tenth graders then spent the first half of 2020 analyzing historical documents and using language from these texts as the foundation for their own collaged poems. Weaving historical texts with their own thoughts and stories to create something new proved to be an act of reclamation and liberation.
826 chapters build space for this type of writing through careful cultivation of community. Often YABPs are the result of deep and long-standing partnerships with schools. 826 MSP hosts a Writers’ Room at South High School, not far from their writing center. The students who created their latest YABP, Indigenous Originated, are from South’s All Nations program. Designed for American Indian students, yet open to all students, All Nations incorporates resources from the American Indian community to help students graduate in four years and prepare them for post-secondary education. 826 MSP student Lennox Lasley writes in his piece:
I’m from a place where people miss meals and risk it all,
to have a little bit of success.
The place where dreams are broken,
and reality is turned into dreams.
Where stuff isn’t handed to you,
Where you can’t depend on anyone,
Where you have to work for everything.
As Lennox’s piece demonstrates, at its heart, the YABP is often an opportunity for students to explore their communities and identities. Whether it’s crafting memoirs of the pandemic, exploring writing through photography, or issuing calls-to-action for the social issues youth care most about, 826 YABPs unlock the possibility of the written word as a means for processing our hopes and dreams. “Dear future self, tell me that all the hard work, sleepless nights, and early mornings paid off. Tell me that all the suffering that I’m going through now has a good outcome…” writes Janeth C. from Roosevelt High School in 826LA’s Time to Heal. “Tell me that after everything my parents have done for me–waking up early and taking me to the bus; crossing the border so I could have a better life–was all worth it and I’ve made them proud.”
In our YABPs, 826 Network students are writing about empathy, joy, power, fear, and solutions. Their writing has the power to open minds, unlock opportunities, and change narratives. 826 chapters aim to ensure that young people are able to access the power and the joy of writing—and in doing so, can help open doors to new possibilities.
Join us this 826 Day in celebrating our students’ words, and the new paths forward they’re writing for us all. Find them at the links below:
- 826 Boston’s My Generation Can: Public Narratives for Community Change by twelfth graders at the E.M. Kennedy Academy For Health Careers
- 826CHI’s Let Us Keep What We Love by 826CHI’s Teen Writers Studio
- 82DC’s We Matter: Notes From DC’s Generation Z by scholars from Brookland Middle School
- 826LA’s Time to Heal: Expressions of Resistance, Resilience, and Reimagination by the ethnic studies students of Roosevelt High School
- 826 MSP’s Indigenous Originated: Walking in Two Worlds by ninth and tenth grade All Nations students from South High School
- 826michigan’s Because No One Else Could Do It photography and memoir by students at Ypsilanti Community High School
- 826 New Orleans’s We the Almighty by sophomores at G.W. Carver High School
- 826NYC’s All I Have to Say memoirs from 826NYC students at the High School of Fashion Industries
- 826 Valencia’s The Freedom to Live Without Fear written by twelfth-grade students at Mission High School
- 826 Dallas Project’s Faceless: Untold Side Effects of Culture, Race, & COVID-19 written by empowered youth from Trinidad Garza Early College High School