Published September 13, 2021 at 2:10pm.
Story by Kendall Stafford and delmetria millener. Photos courtesy of #TeenWritersProject.
Note from the Editor: For our feature on #TeenWritersProject, it seemed fitting that we hear directly from one of the teen writers involved! Kendall begins this story, and delmetria (lowercase intended), her mentor, and Founding Director of #TeenWritersProject follows with her own perspective on helping teens find their voice, find their platform, and find their purpose.
Funny story. My AP Language teacher was the person who first introduced me to #TeenWritersProject. She sent me a Remind with a flyer attached that said, “#TeenWritersProject is looking for a Teen Coordinator,” and she thought I would be the perfect fit. So, I send in my resume, go through the interview process, and bam! I become the Teen Editorial Coordinator.
#TeenWritersProject, or #TWP, is a nonprofit organization that has supported teen writers since 2018. The organization gives us access to writing opportunities that can help improve our “reading, writing, social, cultural and creative literacy.” Beginning in October, 2021, we’ll even start hosting exclusive Craft & Career Speaker Series’ on our Discord channel where teens are able to learn how to write and learn how to become writers.
delmetria millener is the founding director of #TeenWritersProject. When I met her, she told me that teenagers need a platform to tell our stories in a space that allows us to think on our own and develop our own ideas without judgment. She told me how necessary it is to give teenagers the platform we need to serve as the documentarists of our time.
It is certainly necessary for me. As the teen coordinator for #TWP’s Teen Editorial Board, delmetria’s passion to help teen writers not only keeps me intentional and accountable with my writing, it provides me with leadership opportunities that will not only benefit my future as a writer, but will help when I go to college.
For me, #TeenWritersProject means a loving, supportive community. It is a passion project made into a non-profit organization that makes me feel supported in my art and allows so many other teens all over the world also to feel that love. #TeenWritersProject gives teens with dreams too big for standard methods of teaching a community unified through writing and art. It’s all about the pen and paper over here. These elements carry more meaning than just being components in the making of a story; they inspire the future.
My biggest pull toward joining #TeenWritersProject was having the opportunity to grow as an artist and learn more about the inner workings of a non-profit organization. After I was chosen as Teen Coordinator, I was able to help select five other teens from places like Europe, Asia and Africa to form the Teen Editorial Board. #TWP gave me the opportunity to explore what I could be outside the walls of my school. As a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, I was able to see that I was capable of so much more. I am capable of leadership, professionalism, and growth.
So far, my experiences with #TeenWritersProject has been supportive and understanding. Not only do we help teens with writing creatively, we offer workshops, exercises, resources, representation, and community to help teens with their creative writing and academic writing.
As a teenager myself, I can acknowledge that teens nowadays are on their phones all the time or are constantly being stuck in some digital stratosphere. But there is so much more to be seen and so much more to explore and #TeenWritersProject offers that opportunity. If a teen joins #TeenWritersProject, they can look forward to finding people who enjoy the same things as them, publishing opportunities, volunteer opportunities, writing opportunities, and having a safe space to create art.
One of my passions as a leader is to shift the mindset of teens in a digitally congested space. TikTok is not the world, video games are not the world, Instagram is not the world. The world is out there and our phones are in our hands. So if we decide, every once in a while, to stop, breathe, look around and write, whether we use our phones, computers or pen and paper, we are officially present and therefore free. #TeenWritersProject offers a community to teens who wish to indulge and write safely. Within this family, teens are supported, uplifted, encouraged, and allowed to grow without judgement or fear. That’s rare and these values should be protected at all costs.
For example, I think our biggest accomplishment so far is our Lit Zine. In our Literary Magazine, we have published teen writers in the US, England, India and Asia, and we accept submissions year round. Leading with me are two other teen leaders in New York and Turkey, and we have teen volunteers in Utah, Nigeria and other parts of the world. As a collaborative, we are helping the Executive Board (the adults) expand our publication to include articles, advertisements and artwork so that we can be recognized as a leader within literary communities that provides quality content for teens, by teens.
#TeenWritersProect began in October 2018 as a writer’s discussion and critique group in a high school classroom, with 15 members, a different name, and an uncertain future. Membership fluctuated but growing pains and growing gains held the group together.
Today, we publish a quarterly Lit Zine, offer weekly, micro writing prompts, have a channel on Discord where, by the time this article is published, we will have hosted our first monthly Craft & Career speaker series for teens. We publish a writer’s reflection journal, offer writers notebook kits and are in the planning stages of our Teen Writers-in-Residence Program beginning in the summer, 2022.
If you know a teen, if you are a teen, if you teach a teen, encourage them to write with #TeenWritersProject. #TeenWritersProject is a reminder to teens that we have the power to impact the spaces in which we live through embracing what makes us special, what makes our hearts soar, and what inspires us to strive for the stars, and we can achieve it all through writing!
This year will be the first time that #TeenWritersProject is participating in North Texas Giving Day. If we raise enough funding, we’ll be able to expand our programs and reach even more teens. Right now, we need funding for notebooks, journals, workshops, training, mentors, residencies, retreats, and other publishing opportunities. To think, if we can get the support we need from North Texas Giving Day, we can potentially reach teens with limited resources and provide them with the tools needed for their literary growth and artistic exploration as well.
Notes from the Founder
I was a teenager in the ‘70s and ‘80s in northern Louisiana. It was not known for a brimming artist scene, especially for writers. Unlike New York and California, there were no salon parties, writing bars or cafes or workshops for writers. If those places did exist, they certainly did not have space for teen writers.
Even at nine-years old, I knew with unadulterated certainty that I wanted to be a writer. But my generation was steered toward pursuing traditional 9 to 5 jobs. So, I followed. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so without obvious resources, teachers, community leaders, camp advisors or “disruptors” to provide guidance or tell me how to pursue writing as my career, I had to feel my way through the dark until I figured it out.
So, at age 17, I subscribed to the New York Times. I couldn’t wait for the paper to arrive so that I could scan the arts section. I had no idea what I was looking for until one day, I read about a place called, “The Writers Room.” It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Writers could come and go and just write all day and all night. I wanted to be in that place! I wanted that place. I had no idea how to become published. I had no mentor, no coach, no nonprofit, no idea how to turn my hobby into my hustle. I was frustrated, but I was going to figure it out.
Now, as a writer for more than 30 years and a high school English teacher for nine, through #TeenWritersProject, I vow to be the support for teen writers today. I know they are out there, and they may be like a teenage me, looking for a beacon. For that reason, I am committed to making sure that teenagers who want to write have what I didn’t: a collaborative and engaging space to write and be published, and resources that will help them develop their writing and learn how to turn their passion into profit.
For teens who want to become writers, not only is #TeenWritersProject committed to teaching teens how to get there, we’re committed to teaching teens how to stay there, be dope and prosper! Currently, we are making that happen by publishing a quarterly Lit Zine, hosting a Craft & Career Writers Series on social media, and publishing reflection journals for teen writers. But, we have plans to do so much more!
This year will be our first time participating in North Texas Giving Day and we are hoping it will be a success. With the right funding, we will be able to expand and publish our Lit Zine monthly and actualize our plans for a Teen Writers-in-Residence next summer. We will also be able to publish both digital and print versions of our Lit Zine, publish more teen reflection journals, and donate Writers Notebook Kits to teens in foster care and juvenile centers. If all goes well, we will be able to create our own “The Writers Room” for teen writers in Dallas and all over the world!