Deep Center’s mission is to empower Savannah’s young people to thrive as learners, community leaders, and agents of change. Through creative writing, cultural production, and art, Deep creates platforms for the city’s youth and the village of support around them, including their families and adult allies, to share stories, engage in debates, and make Savannah a more just and equitable place.
Deep Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in 2008 to address the detrimental effects of poverty on literacy in Savannah, Georgia. During our first year, we hosted free creative-writing workshops for 24 young people from two local public schools and published one book of writing.
We’ve grown a lot since 2008. We currently work with over 700 youth locally and across Georgia and more than 200 of teachers, adult artists, writers, and community stakeholders every year. All told, we have supported more than 4,500 young people with our free writing, arts, and leadership programs, and we’ve published more than 120 anthologies of youth and adult work, trained more than 400 local writing mentors, hosted live readings reaching diverse audiences of 12,000, and shared Savannah’s stories around the nation.
In November 2015, Deep traveled to the White House, where First Lady Michelle Obama personally awarded Deep Center a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award—the nation’s highest honor for organizations like ours.
While our key aim remains building learning and agency through the art of creative storytelling, we are continually deepening our practices, expanding our reach, and honing our strategies to best work with our communities and to make Savannah a more just and equitable place. We now work not just with youth but the village and systems surrounding young people, because young people’s healthy development cannot be separated from the context in which they live. Our learning spaces have become intergenerational and include parents, guardians, and other adults in our young people’s village, including community stakeholders, artists, workers inside the juvenile justice and educational ecosystem, and more. And our aim now is to lift up Savannah’s youth and families by directly supporting them while working to change the institutions and systems harming them.
Why We Write: Statement of Need
The numbers on poverty in Savannah are stark: 28% of residents and 42% of children live in poverty, 67% of public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color to an alarming degree. Research shows strong links between poverty and trauma and the capacity to learn and thrive. Savannah’s public schools alone cannot meet the manifold needs of children growing up with limited resources. And adults and families living in poverty endure the challenges of life in an age of increasing stigmatization and diminishing supports.
Furthermore, Savannah’s young people from vulnerable populations struggle to express themselves, hear directly or indirectly that their stories don’t matter, and are bombarded with negative messages about themselves and their communities with few opportunities to respond with truth and their own perspectives. And Savannah is a place where young people are told that if they want to leave their lane they should leave the city. And so they do: census data show that while Savannah’s population steadily increases the overall percentage of young people is declining.
Moreover, Savannah is both unique in its place in U.S. history and in the American South, yet at the same time very much reflective of our nation’s historical and contemporary challenges—especially when it comes to the communities with whom Deep Center works. The institutions and narratives that make up Savannah’s civic, educational, and cultural systems manifest this history and its harms. And the structures that are supposed to support youth and their families too often cause more hurt than healing. This can be seen most strikingly in how Savannah chooses to allocate resources for children in need: to courts and police rather than mental health, education, enrichment programs, and other services that foster healthy development. Chatham County’s juvenile justice system has nearly twice the number of court-involved youth as any other county in the state of Georgia (including Atlanta), and African American boys are seven times more likely to be referred to court than their white counterparts. The culture in which Savannah’s young people are immersed is one of punishment rather than restoration and care. And the ways punishment is applied do not account for history, systemic harms, and the often traumatizing daily experiences of growing up in Savannah.
Vision: The Change We See
We envision a Savannah where our young people and their families thrive as learners, community leaders, and artists; and we envision a community, a government, and institutions that hear, value, and respond to their voices with equity, justice, and care.
Core Values: What Drives Us
Depth: We believe that a deep exploration of our community’s shared and diverse narratives is the surest way to open minds, encourage hearts, and inspire change.
Community: We believe that solutions are found both locally and nationally. We leverage the talent, creativity, and care that exists in our city while sharing ideas with experts and practitioners nationwide.
Equity: We believe in doing the right thing for Savannah’s most vulnerable populations.
Root-Cause Analysis: We believe that the people are not the problem, the problem is the problem. In an inequitable ecosystem that is the product of an unjust history, putting the burden of change only on young people and vulnerable populations ignores their day-to-day realities, sets them up to fail, and misses the root causes of their challenges. A clear-eyed approach focuses on strengthening not simply young people, but the village around them and the unjust structures at odds with their wellbeing.
Co-learning: We believe that we build true knowledge and understanding by valuing every person in the room for the unique fund of knowledge they bring.
Truth: We believe that when we value the honest voices of young people, they gain confidence in themselves and the power to take charge of their stories and to transform their communities.
Courage: We believe that honesty—both in writing and in life—requires bravery and conviction. We strive to inspire intellectual and emotional courage in our young people.
Joy: We believe that true creativity springs from a motivated and joyful approach to complex problem-solving. We delight in our work and deliberately incorporate fun into everything we do.