RICHMOND (CBS 5) – Some Richmond teenagers have a new way to express the stress in their lives thanks to this Jefferson Award winner, an English teacher who found the same thing worked for her in high school.

Donté Clark was Molly Raynor’s first poetry student. That was five years ago. Today at age 22, he helps teach and run her program called RAW Talent, which stands for Richmond Artists Write. On a recent afternoon, he demonstrated performance poetry to a group of teens who sat in rapt attention.

“On the edge of silence you can hear their whispers, these are the spirits of our ancestors,” Clark said pointedly.

They are poems about life: pain, poverty, personal truths.

“You know nothing about no place to sleep, no food to eat, no shoes for your feet!” Clark continued.

Growing up in Richmond, Clark said he had few ways to express what he was going though, until English teacher Molly Raynor suggested he try poetry.

“It’s another way of getting out what’s pent up,” Clark explained.

Raynor added, “When we talk about spoken word poetry, performance poetry, slam poetry, it’s a different type of poetry. There are two components to it: the writing has to be strong, but the performance has to be strong too. This creates a place where they not only can improve their reading and writing skills but really process those emotions.”

Raynor said spoken word poetry changed her own life in high school, so in 2007, when she was hired at the Making Waves Education Program in Richmond, she saw an opportunity.

“In addition to the academic support we need to have a creative outlet,” she said.

So she added RAW Talent to Making Waves’ rigorous academic program. Today, more than 100 students benefit from her weekly workshops, which have now expanded to include theater and music production, as well as performances and field trips.

“Because of RAW Talent, I’ve become active in my community, a teacher, a poet, a well-respected artist,” Clark said. “A lot of this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Molly Raynor.”

“It was never about poetry, it was about social justice,” Raynor said. “It was about internal exploration and creating a safe space for young people to feel like they can really vent and heal together in a way that feels natural.”

So for helping students find their own unique voices, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Molly Raynor.

For more information on RAW – Richmond Artists Write, email Director Molly Raynor at

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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