Arlita Bailey started writing two years ago, in sixth grade. Now 13, she published her first novel thanks to the passionate dedication of the team at Chapter 510, the Oakland nonprofit that connects children to the magic of storytelling captured in real books that we can hold in our hands.
During a visit to the Dept. of Make / Believe, the new Chapter 510 space in historic Swan’s Market in downtown Oakland, I met Arlita. When asked how people react to her job, she described that her friends are interested and want to do it too.
“Because they saw your book,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied, with a smile.
“When young people write and get published, transformation happens,” said Margie Chardiet, director of programs and publications in Chapter 510. “It’s really powerful to see not only their own work on the page, but [to] share their work with the world in a way where they can somehow perceive how it is received by people who recognize the sparkle of their own creativity.
Arlita is one of eight students at Westlake Middle School Writer’s Room in Oakland who wrote a novel this fall as part of the Chapter 510 School Workshop. I had the privilege of reading her book. It’s nice. “One thing we always do [in our novel-writing program] do we work with local color illustrators, ”Chardiet said. Each student also receives a mentor, a writer of color who guides them through the writing, writing and publishing process. “It’s also kind of a window into this professional world in this cool way… with color mentors and color illustrators who are successful in their own lives,” Chardiet added. “To have this modeled for [the students] is a really powerful experience.
Jahan Khalighi, Chapter 510 Program and Events Director, said, “A big part of our mission is to help the youth of Oakland write with confidence and joy…. You know, I think it’s an opportunity for them to develop their confidence in their ability to write, to say, “Wow, my story is really valuable, and look what it can do in the world or in my school. ” [T]are happy to be a part of the creative process of making a book, I think it’s fun for them to see it. You know, they kind of light up, they say, “What? Is that what’s really going on?” So that’s a real nudge.
Janet Heller, the ever-enthusiastic Executive Director of Chapter 510, led the charge of creating this new downtown Oakland youth home. “Space is important,” Heller said. The first space created strictly for student writing was the Westlake School’s full-time writing room. She described it as “the space Arlita needs to access her own thoughts and feelings”.
Now, the organization is bringing that vision to downtown Oakland. “We want to create a beautiful space for the youth of Oakland to come together, be safe and belong,” Heller said. “And to be inspired.”
I can attest that the space is more than “just” magnificent. Abstract murals flow wildly onto the walls and floors, a fully functional vintage book press decorates the space, a hand-made scene from reclaimed materials is ready for the brave. This space is like the strong secret of Imagination, fiercely creative and globally safe. The reading room was so inviting that I almost didn’t come back to the interview on my tour.
Arlita said the creative writing was special because, “instead of giving it a try where [what I write is] something that is chosen by my teacher, I get to understand what I want to write, how I want to do it and, like, I devote my time to it so that I can make a good project out of it.
“So do you have control of the whole process? I asked, still the classic writer. In response, Arlita gave a few examples: “I feel like I’m a homeowner because… whenever I feel like [I’m stuck] about something, they help me find different ways to solve it ”, and“ I have to own it, write it myself, spend the time on it doing it, and still get help.
There were three writing sessions per week. Arlita quickly learned time management to balance the book with homework, sports, and school.
“It teaches us time management, because … when I started, I wanted to do everything [at once, then I realized] I’m going to have to manage my time now, “she said, adding,” It was a lifelong skill because now I know how to manage my time more than before. “
All of this shows the power of a creative project. By undertaking this work with the space and support to nurture her and her cohort, Arlita is showing others what can be done; the heights that a student can reach. In short, the Chapter 510 program helps Artila set a good example.
“He’s a model, that’s for sure. She inspires me, ”Heller said.
Writing programs at school are currently aimed at 100 students, in 4 different schools. The students work on poetry, academic essays and fiction.
This spring, students in a workshop will build an oral history of Swan Market, the downtown community where the Chapter 510 team is planting its seeds. “This program will also help us to deepen our relationship with this historic building and this neighborhood. [so they can influence] how we can be a space for the youth of Oakland, ”Heller said.
This is just one of many free young writer workshops offered in the new location, which is actually home to several Chapter 510 spaces, of which the Make / Believe department is just one.
The workshop that caught this writer’s attention is the Native American Youth Poetry Workshop, organized in partnership with Nomadic Press, which takes place every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. starting January 4. It’s free.
Arlita Bailey is now a writer. She can prove it. Sometimes we don’t know it until we really see it in the world.
“Plus it looks good on a CV,” Arlita added.