“Writing is an emotional outlet, and no community of any kind is healthy unless you have a way to fully express your emotions,” says Annaka Clark, a poet and youth board member of Write253, the organization that produced last Saturday’s Vision 2025 Literary Festival in Tacoma.
This first-ever iteration of Vision 2025 featured live music, dance performances, readings and more, spread out along the grassy slopes of People’s Park in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. Community organizations including Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Centro Latino, Hilltop Action Coalition, King’s Books, Tacoma Public Library participated in the event, which attracted a crowd of about 150 people over the course of the day. Creative Colloquy poet Sandy King, playwright Nick Stokes and fiction authors Christian Carvajal and Samuel Snoek-Brown gave live readings, along with Clark and fellow Write253 poet Michael Haeflinger.
“It’s like a neighborhood block party,” Clark said while preparing for her performance. “It’s a chance for us to all get together and write and talk about what we feel is creative.”
Organized by Lettuce 253, a Tacoma-based literary arts organization for youth, and sponsored by the Tacoma Housing Authority and the City of Tacoma, the festival brought a sense of community pride and solidarity to Hilltop, where residents, especially youth, have been increasingly impacted by development. As the neighborhood economy grows and building permits are renewed for affordable housing developments, youth are uncertain about how their neighborhood will change and whether they’ll fit into it.
“We want to make sure we’re talking to kids about what that development looks like and what the future of their neighborhood will look like,” said Brittani Flowers, program manager for Tacoma Housing Authority.
Named after “Tacoma 2025,” the City of Tacoma’s 10-year strategic plan for development, the festival demonstrated ways for local youth to bring actionable change to their community. It was the culminating event of the Vision 2025 Writing Competition, in which elementary school students of Hilltop submitted poetry and short stories about their neighborhood—120 total students from Bryant Montessori, McCarver and Stanley Elementary Schools.
“We were able to go to schools and talk to kids about the comprehensive plan so they could make the connection between the writing contest, Vision 2025, and the comprehensive plan, Tacoma 2025,” Flowers said. Keeping Hilltop youth informed about the future of their neighborhood and providing a public platform to express their opinions are key to strengthening a community.
“This event is the celebration of the writing contest,” Flowers said. “It’s meant to bring out all the kids from other grades who couldn’t participate, their siblings, other residents and neighborhood homeschooled kids. It’s a way for people to talk about education in a more exciting and engaging way.”
Hilltop Action Coalition (HAC), a nonprofit organization working to empower residents and build a healthy, united community, helped organize the writing competition and ensure the voices of participating students were heard.
“Hilltop Litter,” a short story submitted by Samiksha Singh of Bryant Montessori Elementary School, got the attention of Hilltop Action Coalition board members who recognized the story as a commentary on excessive litter in the neighborhood. The board members decided to act, organizing Luna’s Hilltop Cleanup Crew in response to Singh’s story. The cleanup crew will meet for the first time this Sunday, June 25. With the help of Write253, the students’ writing submissions, including “Hilltop Litter,” were published in the HAC community newspaper, Hilltop Action Journal.
“We’re very active and committed to this community,” says Jennifer Stolle, an administrator for Hilltop Action Coalition. “This event nurtures the need for children to connect with literature: to write, to touch books, to get to know book store owners, to meet librarians and to see people read literature.”