Our high school-based clubs meet weekly to nourish, empower, heal and inspire through creative expression and emotional support. We provide students with the tools and confidence to educate the broader community. Our core work takes place during weekly POPS the Clubs meetings where participants break bread and break their silence. Following their communal meals, students benefit from the wisdom of guest speakers, from opportunity for writing and making art, from conversation and from mindfulness exercises. This work is informed by evidence-based emotional learning practices that have been demonstrated to be healing and transformative. Significant to the POPS formula is the school club example on which it is based. POPS changes lives in much the way LGBT clubs change lives. When students no longer feel compelled to carry around a secret, when they do not feel alone, when they are not shamed, they blossom. They reach out to each other. and they educate their teachers and change the culture of the school one person at a time.
POPS the Club nourishes by weekly providing space and a meal where members develop an authentic community that respects and strengthens individual and collective voices. A shared meal is the binding agent of the POPS community experience. We partner with local area restaurants to provide food for our weekly meetings.
Pops the Club meetings are delivered by a team comprising school-based sponsors, supported by at least two community-based volunteers who serve a delicious weekly meal, serve as role models and support students with their consistent presence. Elected student officers co-lead meetings.
We have recently introduced a curriculum that along with art and writing lessons includes mindfulness techniques and practices that nourish the mind and promote emotional balance and health.
Our club members are working to break down systemic barriers in their minds, in their schools and in their communities that have held them back economically and socially. As they process what has happened to them and their families, they develop from “dispossessed victims” into leaders with brighter futures. As Joslyn Stevenson writes in her poem published in our second POPS anthology, Ghetto by the Sea, “I am here because I want to be | Yeah, I’ve got family locked up, but they ain’t me.”
In Los Angeles alone, according to the UCLA Mapping Project, Million Dollar Hoods, more than 20,000 children in Los Angeles have a family member in jail or in prison. Between 1991 and 1997 the number of mothers behind bars doubled. Their children are at risk of experiencing trauma, usually associated with the loss of a parent through death, and accompanied by blame, stigma, and shame.
Writing and reading are at the core of the POPS THE CLUB program, helping students to become more articulate, self-aware and understanding. Reading and discussing the work of respected authors and of each other offers students perspective on their own situations and improves their English language competency.
Each year we publish a paperback anthology of POPS students’ poetry, essays, stories and artwork, and we market that book nationally. Our students’ work is also published in partner magazines including, among others, The Good Men Project, Narratively Magazine and KidSpirit Online. We organize staged readings at theaters, bookstores and homes (Barnes & Noble, Beyond Baroque, Moss Theater). We are collaborating with Richard Ross, the well known photographer and creator of the Juvenile-In-Justice Project, where our students’ writing will soon appear.
Our Guest Speaker Program is particularly compelling, as we recruit a wide representation of advocates and supporters from among community leaders, political activists, artists, authors, non-profit leaders, politicians, exonerated prisoners and law enforcement officials. These individuals reflect the robust partnerships we have established in the community and bring to their guest speaking assignment a commitment not only to provide guidance but to encourage students to ask questions.
Among our returning guest speakers is parole commissioner, Robert Barton, who has said, “There should be a POPS the Club in every high school— transforming hidden shame to hope and hurt into healing.”