Youths united through poetry as Brixton recording artist encourages youngsters to express their emotions

By Melissa Kasule

A poet and recording artist is changing the school curriculum and the lives of people around him.

Teaching young people how to express their emotions on hard-hitting subjects like rape, racism and suicide, Ragz-CV – real name Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson – runs a charity, Poetic Unity, which encourages young people aged five to 25 to express themselves in poetry and spoken word.

The Brixton-based charity ran schemes at The London Nautical School in Waterloo, Brit School in Croydon and Ark Globe Academy in Southwark, teaching on mental illness and personal development.

He said: “When we first started we were more focused on community events, creating a platform for young people for them to have a voice on the stage, particularly poets.

“But now we are a lot more focused on education and alternative education. In terms that we have different programmes we run in schools.

“We do a programme called Mandem Let’s Talk, and we found a lot of young guys have an issue talking about what they feel.”

Ragz-CV adds: “I’ve always been a believer that the curriculum needs improving and also the teachers need help as well.

“Teachers have to deal with 30 kids at a time and stick to a curriculum, it’s very difficult. That’s why we do alternative education. Use poetry as a tool. Poetry is at the heart of everything we do.”

“We aim to boost their self-esteem and give them a tool to help them say how they feel. They might not be able to say it in a conversation, but write it in a poem. It’s really important that they have something to use when they leave us because we are not going to be with them every day.

“I want to have a lasting impact on young people – to build on what we’ve created so far. And, having an impact, even if it’s two, three or four schools, every day or once a week.”

“Making a difference long-term.”

Ragz’s young protégé, Jadya, already reaps the benefits of this. The 21-year-old never saw poetry as a career before joining the charity.

She said: “I do have a daughter so I didn’t do too much other than looking after my daughter. But this has me doing more, doing things I wouldn’t do.”

Jayda is now paid to perform at events and on the radio.

“He pushes me with things I don’t want to do,” she said. “He helps me with problems in my life and encourages me to put it into my poetry, and he is building my confidence, giving me new opportunities.

“I remember the first time I performed I had my head down and was reading off my phone speeding through it.

“I just wanted to get off the stage. Ragz talked to me, gave me confidence and it gave me a better stage presence.”

Jayda aims to do more featured performances and publish a book. But, for now, she enjoys creating workshops with Ragz at Theatre Peckham for others like her to be inspired.

Ragz holds a weekly spoken word night at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton.

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