Event

For Tacovia Braggs, DaVerse Lounge Is Essential to Life

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Tacovia Braggs was a junior at David W. Carter High School. She was 16. The perennial wallflower, she buried her head in her poetry. So her spoken word teacher, Darius Frasure, invited her to attend DaVerse Lounge. It was 2005.

Tacovia, now a busy, 28-year-old flight attendant, remains as connected to DaVerse Lounge as that fateful first time she got up onstage and read the provocative, no-minced-words piece, “Just To Make You Think.” In fact, head over to any DaVerse Lounge event this 12th season – don’t miss it Friday, December 9, 2016 at Life in Deep Ellum – and you’ll see Tacovia working the platform right alongside DaVerse Lounge creator and emcee Will Richey.

“You can’t describe DaVerse, you can only experience it,” she says by phone from the Indianapolis airport. “As an adult you will never find a place like DaVerse, so as a kid it’s, well, DaVerse. It is what it is. DaVerse should be in every city, in every corner of the world, because everybody should have that opportunity.”

For Tacovia, DaVerse arrived in the nick of time. She spent much of her adolescence trapped in her own emotions. You see, Tacovia’s home life was less than stellar. At the tender age of 2, her father was murdered. That’s when her mother closed off the rest of the world, including Tacovia. So the little girl born and raised in Dallas slowly grew more and more insular. She turned to her writing for refuge.

“My solution to the problem was to bottle it up and say nothing,” she says. “That was the only way I knew how to handle life. Because showing emotions was either laughed at or frowned upon. I’m a writer because of it; that was my way of talking without talking.”

So at DaVerse, Tacovia not only read her original poetry before an audience at every event, but she also found a safe haven for her fragile soul. Her DaVerse debut was indeed nerve-wracking, and Tacovia admits that she hid behind the paper where her poem was written. It became her shield. But there was already something magical at work. She felt a kinship with total strangers.

“You walk into that room and there are all these people everywhere, and yet you felt like you belonged somewhere,” she says. “You didn’t feel like they were turning around watching you when you walked through the door. Nobody judged you. I didn’t feel anybody was watching me. Kids were nice, the adults were nice. They were all welcoming. I felt so excited about being around these kids. I wasn’t really social even when I was a kid. I wasn’t a social butterfly talking to children. But being in there it was like, oh, they are kind of like me.”

Tacovia immediately connected with Richey and with DaVerse Lounge mentor and bandleader Alejandro Perez, Jr. She would be invited back again and again until attending DaVerse was a life essential like food and water.

“That first poem was full of so much conviction, power and strength that we invited her to become a part of our traveling poetry group in the Metroplex,” says Richey. “DaVerse Lounge gave her a home to nourish and activate the power of her voice, and in turn we learned from her. What started as a mentor-mentee relationship has evolved into a lifelong friendship, even a sense of family. My wife and children consider her a part of our extended family.”

Through the trials and tribulations of the teenage years, and then the college years, and then the getting ready for the real world years, DaVerse Lounge was there. It became Tacovia’s refuge, her character-building sanctuary.

“I knew that my situation when I was growing up wasn’t the best of circumstances, but when I got to DaVerse I never had to think about it,” she says. “I didn’t have to think about homework or test scores or my house or my family situation. I was not thinking about all the things that bothered me because I was overwhelmed with all the joy that was around me.”

And then something extraordinary happened, something completely unexpected. Tacovia’s mother was driving her to the events, and she would stay for the entire show. Slowly but surely the lines of communication between Tacovia and her mother began to open. Two people who were virtual strangers after tragedy struck suddenly started to talk.

“Before DaVerse we didn’t have conversations, period,” she says, “so it definitely opened everything for us. When I came to DaVerse you were able to talk about it, express it. It made me more confident because I was learning how to accept and process life.”

Today Tacovia is based in Houston and has been a flight attendant for United Airlines since 2011. She’s a North American flight attendant, which includes travel to Canada and Mexico. “That’s about as international as I get,” she jokes.

She’ll tell you without any qualms that she talks up DaVerse Lounge on the planes. DaVerse Lounge is her rite of passage, the missing link that gave her the courage to face her emotions, to socialize with strangers, to revel in an ambiance that is completely judgment-free. DaVerse Lounge turned this wallflower into the belle of the ball.

“What Big Thought invested in is a goldmine because kids are always being told what to do,” she says. “They are at home and being told what to do. They go to school and they are being told what to do, how to react, what choices to make. There is this constant control. As adults we go from obligation to obligation to obligation. But kids go through this in a heightened state because they are growing. Being in DaVerse, even if you aren’t reading, gives them a place to be, to just breathe, and not be bogged down with concerns. You don’t need to worry about anything when you go there. You don’t have that burden of trying to figure out what am I supposed to be doing. You’re not getting fussed at or criticized or chastised. You are there to be a part of something greater than you. DaVerse is what life should be like.”

Richey sees Tacovia as a shining portrait of the power of DaVerse Lounge. He found in Tacovia a fellow poet, a dear friend, and a kindred heart-on-the-sleeve spirit.

“It is an honor to have her back at every show to provide that nurturing and yet firm example of a young female voice who has become a thriving professional,” he says. “It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support an adult. Tacovia embodies that.”

DaVerse Lounge, a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink, thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Photos courtesy of Tacovia Braggs and Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big ThoughtFor Tacovia Braggs, DaVerse Lounge Is Essential to Life
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NEA Chairman Jane Chu Learns Secret Poetry Handshake During Dallas Visit

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Jane Chu knows a secret. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman was officially welcomed into the Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School DaVerse Poetry Club with the secret handshake. Students christened Chu as an honorary member during her Quintanilla visit Monday afternoon, November 28, 2016.

Big Thought hosted the Quintanilla jaunt, which began with a roundtable conversation featuring Big Thought staff and partner representatives. Chairman Chu conversed with Guy Bruggeman, Dallas Love Field; Janiece Evans-Page, Fossil; Will Dowell, Behind Every Door; Will Richey, Journeyman Ink; Lela Bell, Teaching Artist; Antoine Joyce, All Stars Project Dallas; David Fisher, Office of Cultural Affairs; Kjerstine Nielsen, Dallas Public Library; plus Big Thought’s Gigi Antoni, Erin Offord, LeAnn Binford, Leila Wright, and Shianne Patrick.

Chairman Chu made the trek from the nation’s capitol to visit with various local community leaders and speak at the Dallas Arts District Community Breakfast on November 29, 2016. The NEA has funded several different partnership initiatives coordinated by Big Thought over the years, including most recently its support of Dallas City of Learning. Big Thought also managed the Dallas portion of the NEA’s inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which culminated last July in New York City.

Back at Quintanilla Middle School, Gary Gibbs, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts; Chad Pendarves from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s office; and the NEA’s Meredith Raimondi also participated in the roundtable discussion. It began with Chairman Chu providing an update on NEA initiatives, and continued with partners sharing about their programs, their personal inspiration, and how the arts positively impact children.

“The ensuing conversation on partnerships highlighted the value of collaboration,” says Big Thought’s Binford, “combining partners’ areas of strength to create wrap-around services that reach more children with increased impact.”

Chairman Chu arrived in Dallas with a passion for hearing diverse perspectives from the community, and seeing quality programs in action. So she was duly delighted when the Quintanilla DaVerse Poetry Club students launched into a call-and-response warm-up led by DaVerse Lounge creator Richey, and then followed through with an activity that had students and adults creating personal poems that were shared one-on-one.

She bonded with those kids. Not only did they shower Chairman Chu with performances of original poems, but they also taught her that secret handshake. She’s official now.

Big Thought extends sincere gratitude to Quintanilla Principal Salem Hussain and DaVerse Poetry Coach Lisa Taylor for their hospitality.

Photo by LeAnn Binford/Big Thought 

 

 

 

Big ThoughtNEA Chairman Jane Chu Learns Secret Poetry Handshake During Dallas Visit
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Six Word Stories Station Engages DaVerse Lounge Crowd

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Six Word Stories took DaVerse Lounge by storm last Friday evening as 88 attendees stopped by the Six Word Stories station and wrote down their personal tales in half-a-dozen words.

We were blown away by the engagement, and the thoughtful stories. Here’s a small sampling of the beauties we enjoyed:

I’m under construction and never happier!

Your melody, my harmony, our symphony.

I am more than six words.

Organized chaos in one beautiful dream.

I can’t is not an option.

Follow your heart, free your mind.

Amazing stuff, huh? Here at Big Thought we thank Communications Manager Pholesha Johnson for doing the research that led her to suggest the Six Word Stories phenomenon as a DaVerse Lounge self-expression exercise. The even greater news is that Six Word Stories will be implemented at all DaVerse Works middle and high school poetry clubs. Also, these same middle and high school poetry clubs will be offered the national Six Word Stories project curriculum.

Need a refresher course on the Six Word Stories history? Revisit our recent Six Word Stories piece.

All of this Six Word Stories excitement spilled onto the Big Thought staff, too. We got into the six word spirit. Here are the gems we came up with:

What’s thought about is brought about.
— Rob

Determined not to cry, she laughed.
–Tori

The cemetery brings it all back.
— Anne

Wisdom shared by age is golden.
— Sally

Whose lips do I adore more?
— Laura

Art will always be restriction free.
— Shianne

Love whatever arises, no matter what.
— Sarah

Insert witty comment, give me credit.
— Brandon

Love yourself first, then love others.
— Kristina

A pub in London was destiny.
— Maria

Memories of loved ones carry me.
— Phyllis

Good communication keeps the employees happy.
— Bill

DaVerse Lounge – share space, be embraced.
— Will

You should laugh, love, cry everyday.
— Erin

Shower me in happiness and love.
— Katelynn

Need to be fearless and stronger.
— Jose

Escaped the Friday Night Lights effect.
— LeAnn

Life is About Refocusing and Recharging.
— Mario

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

Big ThoughtSix Word Stories Station Engages DaVerse Lounge Crowd
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One Line Wonders Empower DaVerse Readers and Receivers

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

In a word: empowerment.

Yes, yes, that word usually describes the DaVerse Lounge experience, whether you’re reading on the stage or receiving in the audience. But this one, this DaVerse Lounge event Friday, Nov. 11, at Life in Deep Ellum, was especially empowering.

We had homeschooled sisters, college students, middle school dreamers, a recent high school graduate and a local hip-hop artist, among many others, pouring their emotions onto a receptive, loving crowd of 500.

So we thought we’d reminisce the evening with a baker’s dozen One Line Wonders, just to remind us how powerful sharing our thoughts and feelings can truly be.

“I hate you, my number eight”
— A lament about moving, and the uncertainty that comes with instability.
Anna, Quintanilla Middle School

“You said you hated me; I said I needed you”
— Standing up against abuse, from love to politics, emotions to physicality.
Cici, Garza High School

“All I hear is black lives this, black lives that, but we all can’t seem to come together to prove that all lives matter”
— Looking in the mirror of humanity.
Danejah, Lancaster Middle School

“I see my life as just a joke; my emotions are an endless spoke”
— Life as seen through the lens of an adolescent.
Francisco, O.W. Holmes Middle School

“When the monster was in the closet, not the closet itself”
— An ode to a best friend, and to life.
Amanda, North Lake College

“Words are mankind’s currency; they can tear you down and build you up”
— Judge people by what they say, and nothing else.
Sisters Haley and Hana, homeschooled

“My body has scars; not from fights, but from life”
— The generational pain that forces you to be strong against obstacles.
John, high school graduate

“She was a beautiful 15-year-old girl who killed herself because of bullying and depression”
— The devastating aftermath of a tragic suicide.
Serenity, Wilmer-Hutchins High School

“I want to get high to see if I can finally get you off my mind”
— Anger from a woman scorned.
Riley, Winfree Academy

“You still got your people; we are all we got – apparently”
— The state of the country and the world today.
So So Topic (AKA Tommy Simpson), local hip-hop artist

“You’re too pretty not to smile, as if me not having a smile on my face at all times is a sin”
— A manifesto against the misogynistic world we live in
Tasa, Winfree Academy

“I made some bad choices and I heard some bad voices, but thou cannot heal when thou cannot feel”
— Changing your life around through faith before it’s too late.
Dequiris, Sam Houston High School

“I keep gagging at the memory of everything that happened”
— A cathartic note to an ex-lover.
Michael, Sam Houston High School

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, State Farm, Liberty Burger, and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation for their generous support.

Photos by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

 

Big ThoughtOne Line Wonders Empower DaVerse Readers and Receivers
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DaVerse Lounge Covets Six Word Stories

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

What’s your story in six words?

Is it a heartbreaking, painful tale? Or is it love and light? Maybe you share something clever, funny. Perhaps it’s exercise for your creativity.

Share your six word story soonest. DaVerse Lounge is the event Friday. Life In Deep Ellum, the venue. We’re ready to receive your tale.

First, read six word stories history:

The inspirational genesis of the six word stories movement comes from Ernest Hemingway’s famous short but potent 1920s narrative – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Six word stories would later become known as flash fiction. For decades this extremely succinct piece of prose has been testing writers’ abilities to craft mini masterpieces for receiving readers.

Jump to 2012 and the six word stories phenomenon picked up steam on Reddit, then lit the Tumblr constituency a mere two years later. The rules of six word stories are pretty basic – write six words. That’s it. You can be as creative, ingenious, heartfelt or funny as you like, but it must only be six words.

And now, back to six words. Six word stories table is ready. See space between henna, artist stations. DaVerse Lounge will provide pen, paper. We want your bold, honest expression. Stories are shared on social media. Or tag #SixWordStories_Daverse and we’ll repost.

What’s your story in six words?

DaVerse Lounge’s 12th season continues Friday, Nov. 11th from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum. DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Big ThoughtDaVerse Lounge Covets Six Word Stories
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Big Thought’s James Adams Becomes Principal Role Model at Charles Rice

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

We need role models, especially today as the world becomes over-burdened by too many people, too much polarization, and too many mixed messages. Kids, now more than ever, need role models. That is particularly true for minority kids from under-resourced families and communities. For them, role models are crucial.

Enter James Adams. Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager, spent Oct. 11 as Principal for a Day at Charles Rice Learning Center in South Dallas. He was part of the Dallas ISD Principal for a Day project that brings together community leaders into schools across the district. Adams’ school day bustled with activities, from his assembly-rousing Harambe warm-up to parent conferences.

“He’s around children and he has a love for children,” says Alpher Garrett-Jones, Principal at Charles Rice Learning Center. “His interaction with the kids is great. I loved Harambe. He sat in on some parent conferences with me. He has a great voice for reasoning. We want to do the fun things, but sometimes you have to do the serious stuff. I am hands-on and I love that about James.”

But Adams’ involvement with Charles Rice Learning Center digs much deeper than an 8-hour day on campus armed with a tie and a microphone. Adams aims to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects under-resourced children. Charles Rice Learning Center, a Big Thought partner for nine years, is a 69 year old school (opened in 1947) with 578 students in Pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, 98 percent of which are designated as economically disadvantaged.

Here’s another significant statistic: Charles Rice Learning Center is 78 percent black boys, according to Principal Jones. Jones, a 32-year educator who has spent the last nine years as Principal of Charles Rice, understands the role model power of a successful black man serving as Principal for a Day.

“We have to hook them in,” she says. “We have to give them something. Trying to get male volunteers is really difficult. Getting black male volunteers is most difficult. We need that visibility. They need to see that black men aren’t just here to chastise them. They need that different type of presence.”

For Adams, Charles Rice was like coming home. No, he didn’t grow up in South Dallas. He’s a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana. But “it was like being home again,” he says. “The staff and students were accommodating and engaging. Students were eager to share their gifts and stories about their community.”

That sense of community, of unwavering dedication to teaching, nurturing and collaborating, has served Charles Rice well. Yes, there are obstacles and limitations. Jones says the resources for after-school clubs are hardly plentiful. The 72-member choir does meet on a daily basis, but other than that Monday is the only day of widespread club activity. Jones says teachers volunteer for two hours to sponsor the garden, TAC (sewing), ballet, tap, jazz, art, debate, and orators clubs. CRLC works with Dallas ISD on a chess club, which the district sponsors.

In 2013, Big Thought joined forces with CRLC for two special projects. The Broken Pieces project encouraged kids to gather broken glass and broken windows, then put them back together as art. The message – relationships can be broken and they can be put back together. Also, the William Sidney Pittman project had children researching the noted architect born in Alabama who came to Texas in 1913 and built temples, churches and chapels in Dallas, Fort Worth, Waxahachie and Houston. Pittman died in Dallas in 1958.

Pittman was a role model. He embodied the Charles Rice Learning Center pillars – respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, citizenship and caring. The school itself regularly exemplifies those pillars. According to a December 2015 Dallas Observer article, CRLC is clearly recognized as a neighborhood “local gem” with a “reputation for quality.” In Dallas ISD’s 2013-2015 School Effectiveness Index, Charles Rice Learning Center earned a score of 59, which is exemplary. That rating put CRLC at the top rank of Dallas ISD elementary schools.

You can clearly see the attention to the kids, from the assemblies to the martial arts gym classes. The first assembly highlighted a hilarious show from those outrageous and loveable clowns Slappy and Monday. The second assembly featured Adams’ encore Harambe chant-along and a presentation by Mr. Blue Shoes (nee Michael Dyson). Dyson, a local guitarist, performer and blues music expert, gets kids excited about playing guitar while teaching them the rich history of the blues.

After Mr. Blue Shoes had the children clapping, hollering and laughing, it was time for pictures. The CRLC choir members posed with Mr. Blue Shoes and his cool guitars. Adams was immediately summoned to be part of the pics. He hopped onto the stage, beamed a toothy smile and embraced his elementary-aged friends. Role models always have time for warm photos.

Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought

Big ThoughtBig Thought’s James Adams Becomes Principal Role Model at Charles Rice
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