Once outside our own little worlds that are increasingly defined by status updates, tweets and posts, all of which are anything but urgent 99% of the time, it’s refreshing to discover people delving into their communities and really connecting with people one-on-one. That was the case recently when I accompanied the Street Poets on a jaunt into South LA.

Rolling up in a state of the art van equipped with power outlets and extra batteries, the Street Poets quickly set-up shop on the sidewalk of a trendy, local coffee house. Microphones were attached to stands, speakers flanked the van and a poem was written on a white board. Then the poets really went to work.

With a blend of street cred and artistic flair, the poets engaged people visiting the coffee shop, or just walking by, and encouraged each to put their thoughts down in words to read out loud. It was a chance, they explained, to be heard and engage the community in their own words. Dozens took up the poets’ offer and contributed to the story corps format, some of which will be mixed together to blend the myriad of voices into one poem that reflects the diversity of the community. In other words, the poets were taking art to the streets to bridge communities and using the spoken word as a vehicle for real engagement, the kind that draws us together as opposed to the kind that increasingly keeps us isolated behind flickering screens.

The Street Poets and many other California art non-profits have the James Irvine Foundation to thank for supporting their efforts and bringing art to the street for all to engage.

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