Today, as I was talking with a student about her passions, Korean Pop music and representing women as a female (video) gamer, a thought crossed my mind that I’ve had before- kids these days are so awesome. I’m tired of hearing about millennials being too into their phones. Yes, devices do get in the way of class sometimes, but this happens just as often in groups of adults. What the internet has meant for young people is that they have had information at their fingertips for most of their lives. They are better critical thinkers because they have grown up comparing and cross-checking whatever they hear from adults to the information out there in just a few clicks. Students also seem more accepting of differences then they were when I was in school, or even in the past decade since I’ve been teaching. Kids who aren’t into more mainstream activities like sports can become virtual experts in, say, Korean pop music. They can even find other 14 year olds who are also into Korean pop music online and form communities. 

Today, we listened to Sekou Sundiata’s poem “Shout Out.” You can listen to him read the poem below. Doesn’t he have a beautiful, hypnotic voice? Ms. Newton pointed out that “Shout Out” is similar to Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and I love that comparison. They are both odes to all the different types of people, for Whiteman specifically, different types of people in New York. As my dad always told me, it takes all kinds. 

Students quickly picked up on the concept of celebration and giving “shout outs” to things we appreciate in life and even things we find annoying or peculiar, such as, in Sundiata's poem “people who don’t wait in the car, when you tell them to wait in the car.” I love sharing odes with students, as so many of them come to class with the idea that poetry is depressing. How do you celebrate different types of people? What would you write an ode to? Neruda wrote odes on everything from salt to socks. Sundiata gives shout outs to  small things, “a low-cholesterol pig sandwich smothered in swine without the pork” as well as big things, “promises that break by themselves.”

Here’s to my students, who inspire me to keep putting myself out there. Shout out to my dogs, who take me for a walk every day, even when it rains. Here’s to the internet, for giving anyone who can type a voice and a way to put it out there. Here’s to listening. Here’s to being heard.

Sekou Sundiata was a Grammy-nominated poet whose work blurred the barriers between music, theater and literature