This blog post, written by Deep Center Community Engagement Coordinator Raphael Eissa and Executive Director Dare Dukes, is the first in an ongoing series, 10 Years Deep, that celebrates the evolution and growth of Deep’s programs in our first decade.

(Read all posts in the 10 Years Deep series here.)

Purpose, Play, and Power

At Deep, we use creative writing and the arts to help young people connect their learning to their lives, their lives to their communities, and their actions to positive change. Deep learning is about connections, creativity, play, and building power in the world. So we mix it up.

We make learning purposeful, personal, and truthful by embedding it in the neighborhoods we come from and the stories of the people living there. And we make learning joyful by fostering creative play with all types of artistic media–creative writing, visual arts, dance, theater, music, and even food.

Watch this video to hear how Deep youth leaders Jahid and Madeline as well as partner community artist Jerome Meadows talk about mixing it up.

(If you love this video and want to hear more, you can watch the entire, unedited interview with Jerome Meadows here.

Literacy Is Multimodal

From the very beginning, developing language literacy and powerful self-expression has grounded Deep’s mission. Language informs the way we interact with the world, how we navigate the experiences that shape us, and how we find our power and purpose. Over the course of our first decade, we’ve evolved our programs and practices to incorporate the most advanced research and thinking about literacy. Case in point: experts describe literacy as being “multimodal.” Literacies, whether linguistic or visual or otherwise, develop in tandem, not independently. So if you want to build literacy in, say, music, then incorporating writing, visual arts, and community engagement helps strengthen learning in music while at the same time increasing literacy across these other modes.

Deep youth Zion and Program Director Keith Miller collaborate on a visual poem.

Joy Drives Learning

Plus, it’s just more fun to mix it up. Which brings us to joy. Too often, joy and fun are accidents or afterthoughts in learning environments. Not so at Deep. We know that joy and fun and play can be drivers of learning, not distractions. We center joy so much that if you’ve ever attended a Deep event, you might forget you’re in a space designed for learning. And don’t think for a second that joy and rigor are mutually exclusive. In fact, rigor is part of our formula for joy: we work hard, push boundaries, interrogate old ideas and unjust stories, and leave our comfort zones. And we ask the rest of Savannah to do the same.

Expert Guidance

We’re not just making this stuff up. We’ve enlisted the help of national and some very local experts to make our programs the best they can be.

National: We’ve developed these practices with the support and guidance of national education experts, such as the National Writing Project, the Red Clay Writing Project at the University of Georgia, and the University of Georgia’s Department of Language and Literacy Education. And our curricula’s literacy outcomes are aligned with, among other things, English Language Arts standards set by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Local: We continually enlist the help of the young leaders in our programs. They’ve begun developing curricula and other learning moments for their peers. And youth leaders in our programs not only have a lot of agency in determining the course of their learning and creativity, but their experiences, joys, traumas, and challenges often inspire Deep staff members to rethink a workshop and sometimes develop a whole new learning module. Our youth-centered pedagogy ensures responsiveness to and trust in the voices of our young people. (Read about how trauma informs our work here, and read here how one Deep writer inspired our staff members to create a whole new learning module on Afrofuturism.)

Guy gets hands-on, turning his words into a sculpture.

Thriving People Make a Healthy, Powerful Village

Individual learning is at the center of what Deep does. And it is a key building block in our ultimate effort to make the village of Savannah nurturing, just, and fair for everyone. In addition to helping youth grow as learners, we build their power and capacities as community leaders and agents of change, because sometimes the systems that hold up a village need as much or more work as the people in the village need support. Deep’s primary goal is to make our city a more just and equitable place. We lift up youth and their families as knowledgeable, skilled, engaged, and empowered leaders for their own benefit and for the health of our whole community.

So we mix it up.

—by Raphael Eissa and Dare Dukes

Read all posts in the 10 Years Deep series here.