7 months ago

INTERVIEW: Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson, founder of Poetic Unity

We chatted to founder Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson to find out more about this Brixton-based charity that’s giving young people a voice.

Credit: poeticunity.org.uk

Poetic Unity is a creative outlet who use mediums such as poetry, spoken word and Black British history workshops to encourage younger people to speak out. We attended a few of their sessions to watch Poetic Unity in action and really enjoyed getting an essence of the organisation in action. The experience offered us a firsthand glimpse into the transformative power of creativity and self-expression for everyone involved with the organisation.

We feel that Poetic Unity goes beyond mere artistic expression, but rather it presents as a catalyst for positive change and growth in Brixton by fostering a holistic approach towards community enrichment and education. From the rhythmic cadence of spoken word to the profound impact of their Black British history workshops, Poetic Unity is a true force. It not only amplifies voices, but nurtures a sense of identity and belonging among its young minds.

Can you share the inspiration behind Poetic Unity and the vision you had for the organisation?

The inspiration came from how I was treated in school, I received a lot of racism from teachers in school and I never felt like my voice was valued in school by adults. Whenever I spoke I felt I was kind of silenced, as a young person. Another inspiration was my grandparents. They really changed the way I looked at the world and how I viewed myself. I started viewing the world, instead of just me or just ‘I’, I started looking at it as ‘we’ and that’s because my grandma went through Alzheimer’s disease. So I did a lot of work volunteering for the Alzheimers’ cause because of her. Seeing her go through that just changed my whole perspective on life. So those are my two main inspirations, what I went through as a young person in school and also my grandparents and the impact they had on my life.

The vision was to give young people a voice, a voice that I never felt I had. To create safe spaces for them and to help young people reach their highest potential. Ultimately, for them to feel like their voice is valued in society.

How does Poetic Unity create safe and friendly environments for young people to express themselves and feel valued in the community?

We provide spaces where young people’s voices are always valued. How they feel about the world… young people at the forefront of the work. They have a say on what their work is too and how it is delivered. 

We understand the young people we support because we’ve gone through what they’ve gone through. We’ve been marginalised, we’re working class, we’re black or black mixed. So because we have those experiences it allows us to connect with the young people we work with in a deeper way. They naturally engage with us because they know we understand them.

Could you elaborate on how writing poetry is used to support young people’s mental health and education?

When we go into schools, we do a lot of poetry, sometimes those young people are disappointed that we are doing poetry naturally but we deliver our sessions in engaging ways. This is a newer poetry, spoken word and we show them that Shakespeare isn’t the only poet out there! They can actually hear poetry from people that look like them, which I think is really important, and that talk like them too. We break down the barriers and we make education, poetry and spoken word cool!

A lot of the time when young people write about how they feel in poetry, it is because they can’t speak about how they feel but when they’re writing a poem it comes out much more naturally. So a lot of our workshops facilitate a space which allows young people to feel comfortable, to feel like they can actually be open and a lot of the time they are open through their poetry which allows them to connect with how they’re feeling and their mental health. Once they’ve done that and understand how to do it, that tool…poetry is something they have for life.

Credit: poeticunity.org.uk

Can you share some success stories from young people whose lives have been impacted by their involvement with Poetic Unity?

There’s been loads of young people that have been impacted positively by our work. One of the young people we used to support…she was really low in confidence initially. She came on our first ever workshop, couldn’t perform etc. She worked at it and her poetry for years with us and she ended up doing so well that she became a trustee of Poetic Unity and an ambassador for our work. To go full circle, of us supporting her and then her supporting us was really inspiring.

What are some future goals for Poetic Unity?

We want to take our work to a more national scale, We have done a few things internationally online but we want to go to more places in person across the UK and eventually across the world. So that’s definitely one way I feel like we are going to grow as an organisation. And also at this point we’re trying to build up our team, our organisational structure. So, we are in the process of getting a solidified team in place in terms of getting salaried employees, not just freelance. We also want our own space in the future to host our sessions.

What are some memorable experiences that stand out for you?

A memorable moment was when we went to Canada as part of an exchange programme, where another organisation called ‘Rise’ came to London and we showed them the poetry scene in London and what poetry does and then we went to Toronto, Canada and they showed us about their culture and what their poetry scene is like. That experience was amazing and it really helped us grow as an organisation as well in terms of learning a lot.

What advice would you give to other aspiring individuals or organisations looking to create positive change in the lives of young people and their communities?

I would say whatever you’re looking to do, do it because the passion’s there. You can’t just help people because you feel like it’ll be nice for a day, I think you have to be really passionate about this type of work. If you have a passion, then decide what you want that passion to be focused on. So with me, it was poetry and that was the tool I use to do all the work that I’m doing and it’s really important to have that specific idea and not go off on too many tangents and passion behind your idea. Then the world is your oyster!

Credit: poeticunity.org.uk

How can we support Poetic Unity and contribute to its mission? 

There’s loads of ways you can donate, we actually have a donation subscription where you can donate monthly. The link is in our bio on instagram and it is really easy to sign up. Another way to support is just by telling people what we do! Word of mouth is so important. If you know a young person or people that can benefit from our work tell them about it. Or if you know someone who works at a school that might benefit from our work, tell them about it. Anyone young too! There are also volunteering opportunities occasionally with us, there are none currently but keep an eye on our socials for openings.

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Poetic Unity is Brixton to the world. The reason I say that is because as an organisation we are small but the impact we have is big. That’s why I always say “Poetic Unity is Brixton to the world.” We always want to connect with our community and maintain an impact.

If you’d like to donate to Poetic Unity, check out the link here.

Interview conducted by Brixton ambassador, Maeve Fitzpatrick


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