When I resigned from the safety net of a full-time editing job in March of 2010, I had nothing lined up. Nothing! Various people told me I was being irresponsible, rash, crazy. An equally-as-insane few applauded my bravery, saying they wished they had the gall to do what I did. Me? I was terrified (still am), but I did it anyway. Why? Because I want my life and writing to actually make a difference. Yes, I know it’s ridiculously cliché, but it’s no less true.
I am an educator. I’ve known that for some time but it was while teaching a sixth grade class as a Sing for Hope Teaching Artist that I had that “AHA” moment—where time stopped for an instant, the universe leaned in, and I knew then and there that teaching is my calling (or as Paulo Coehlo calls it: my “personal legend).
I was in the middle of an Art U! lesson on poetry wherein I demonstrated that song lyrics are poetry set to music. I shared various lyrics and asked the students to share others they knew. I then had them analyze the verses and explain what they thought the artist(s)/band was trying to say. One usually quiet student raised her hand and asked if she could read a few lines of her own poetry. I enthusiastically responded yes. She went on to read a poem about the weight of being a female of color in the hip-hop era where hyper-sexuality is applauded and she couldn’t walk down the street without feeling like a slab of beef on display in a meat market (carniceria is what she called it). I watched in awe as a usually timid girl took back her power via the written word.
At that instant, with tears in my eyes, I knew there is nowhere else I want to be and nothing else I want to do but educate young people to empower themselves through the arts.
Vanessa Martir made the bold decision of quitting the safety net of full-time work to live her dream of writing, educating and performing. She has penned two novels, and numerous short stories and poems. Most recently, Vanessa co-wrote Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists, an interactive guide to social responsibility and community action for 9-12 year olds. She has worked as a teaching artist for numerous organizations, including the Association for Hispanic Arts (AHA) and KIPP for College. Vanessa is also a public speaker who regularly speaks at conferences and on panels at universities across the country, including Cornell University, Columbia University (her alma mater) and NYU. She is currently working on the first of a pentagonía of memoirs, a one woman show and an anthology. Vanessa, also known as La Loba in the NYC literary scene, hosts and emcees a monthly themed poetry series dubbed La Loba Poetry.
About Sing for Hope’s Art U! Youth Outreach Program
Sing for Hope’s Art U! program exposes under-resourced students to five distinct art forms (visual, written word, music, drama, and dance) and investigates how each of those artistic disciplines can be a catalyst for social change. Classes with resident Teaching Artists are complemented by visits with guest Volunteer Artists in an exploration of art’s power to transform lives and communities.
To learn more about Art U! and our wonderful Teaching Artists including Vanessa, click here.
To read more PROFILES IN ARTS ACTIVISM, click here.