2016-17 WITS Anthology Launch: Closing Remarks

Ronica Hairston, the mother of 2016-17 Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador Joseph Hairston–whose poetry you can find here and here–generously made these warm remarks in support of Writers in the Schools at our 2016-17 WITS Anthology Launch. At this celebration, over 60 K-12 students shared the poetry, stories, comics, and memoir from the brand new WITS anthology, Pulling the Secret Out of the Flames, in a powerful evening of youth voice; the whole crowd was moved by Ronica’s words.

Read on to find out how Ronica and her son have found their lives touched by the WITS Program, and to hear her important reminders to writers–and the parents of writers–everywhere. . .


By Ronica Hairston, WITS Parent & Friend of SAL

“We grab pens hoping to write the next big piece. Countless hours with our handshaking, brain is racing, never knowing what’s to come before the period. I never erase, I never erase because my hands have more truth then the brain that overthinks the insecurities, that tries to take control of the pen and paper.”

That is a short selection from a poem written by my son, Joseph Hairston.

My name is Ronica Hairston, and I am the parent of a former WITS participant. Just two years ago, his poem was selected for the 2015 WITS Anthology, No One Except the Hundred-Handed Trees. I remember watching him read his poem and thinking what a great accomplishment it was. I had no idea that this was just the beginning of a growing list of great achievements with the WITS program. Through various workshops, he has not only gained skill and confidence, but a remarkable love for poetry.

A co-worker once asked me if I though it was realistic to encourage my son to work in the field of arts. Would there really be any opportunities for him to be heard? I informed her that my son was not only a published poet, but was also given the title of Seattle Youth Poet Ambassador for the 2016-2017 school year as part of the Youth Poet Laureate Program of Seattle. He participated in the Capitol Hill Lit Crawl and was a featured reader at the Elliot Bay Book Store and Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards. That he was the opening reader for Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates, and for the Seattle Arts & Lectures event Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin with Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, to which he received his first standing ovation. Great opportunities that all started with his participation in the WITS Program.

But WITS also prepared him for events outside of Seattle Arts & Lectures: working with United Way, The Hip-Hop Residency Program at the Museum of Pop Culture and being asked to read his poetry at Paul Allen’s Founders Day Awards in front of an audience of musical greats, including Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr. So, to go back to the original question as to if I thought it was realistic to encourage my son to work in the field of arts, the answer, quite simply, is yes.

Writers, you stood here this evening and shared your amazing work with all of us. Don’t let it stop here. Continue to write. Continue to share your voice and enlighten us as to your victories, struggles dreams and aspirations. Parents, continue to encourage your writer. It might be different than what you expected, but their words are their own. Gift them with the ability to listen.

My experience with the WITS Program has truly been amazing. It not only exposed my son to an abundance of opportunity, but also opened my eyes to a beautiful gift I hadn’t even realized he had. There truly are no words that can express how much I love and appreciate Seattle Arts & Lectures. I am grateful for everything they’ve done for my son. Please join me in supporting the WITS Program. Their presence in our schools will contribute to the transformation of our communities. In supporting them, you are supporting your children and future writers that will one day grace this stage. Thank you so much for your support of WITS and please, please, please, continue to write.


Thank you so much, Ronica! 

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