L-R McKenzie Sewell, Dalton Small, Marlon Winston. All three artists plan to attend college.
Lawrenceville students newly-published authors
By Carole Townsend
Dalyn Small and Marlon Winston, by all outward appearances, are like most other teen boys. They dress the part. They like hanging out with their friends.
Marlon is a self-proclaimed “sports guy.” Both young men are members of the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club, one of 3 such clubs in Gwinnett County. But there’s something that sets both of these young men apart from most of their peers; they both have poems published in an official Creative Writing Anthology.
Young children and teens across metro Atlanta submitted poems and short stories to the Marel Brown Creative Writing Contest. Hundreds of submissions were received, but only a few were judged good enough to be included in the anthology. Six County students from Gwinnett Boys & Girls Clubs won the right to be included in the 2017 Anthology; we got the chance to sit down and talk to Small and Winston, as well as with a young woman named McKenzie Sewell, who is a gifted painter and artist at the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club.
All three students were well mannered and polite, something that (from this reporter’s perspective) is a refreshing change from what’s becoming the norm among many young people. Not surprisingly, none of the three students boasted about the impressive accomplishments they’ve achieved. In fact, they seemed shy about their talents and their successes.
“I got the chance to go to L.A. because my poem won,” said Small, who recently read his poem ‘Three Pillars’ for his Lyricism 101 class, offered at the Club. He performed the poem - yes, he sang it - for the audience in California. His poem ‘Hey Dad’ is the piece that was published in the Anthology, but ‘Three Pillars’ is obviously one of his favorites.
Why the title? “The three pillars are education, character and a healthy lifestyle,” Small said. The subject matter of this poem comes as no surprise; Small is a handsome, well-mannered teen with more than just “hanging out” on his mind, and the Boys & Girls Club in Lawrenceville is one reason for his impressive focus. In addition to his artistic accomplishments, Small is also president of “Keystone” at the Club, an organization that encourages young people to give back to their communities. His accomplishments through Keystone earned him a trip to Chicago this year.
Pictured: Some of the computers on hand for the children’s school work and more.
‘The Boys & Girls Club is not just a place to be. It’s a world of opportunity,” Small said. In Chicago, we talked about the future and how we are going to be a part of it.” There is another program at the Club, called College Bound. Participation means that juniors and seniors in high school get to go on college tours, some-thing they may not have a chance to do otherwise. “I’m learning a lot about different colleges. The one I decide to attend will probably depend on the scholarship I am offered,” Small added.
Sewell is also planning to go to college, but even at her young age, she has accomplished something that many artists can only dream about. “I have a (painting) downtown, in the Woodruff Arts Center. I think someone may be interested in buying it,” she said, just as nonchalantly as she might have been discussing the afternoon weather report. Sewell embodies what’s beautiful in a young artist who’s been blessed with natural talent; she doesn’t yet know just how talented she is.
“Being here at the Boys and Girls Club, you make a lot of connections and build relationships,” Sewell said. “There are so many opportunities available to you if you just take advantage of them, whether you’re interested in art or science or anything else.” With a strong desire to be a marriage and family counselor, Sewell wants to attend Augusta University.
Winston might have been the biggest surprise of the day when we got a chance to sit down and talk. A high school freshman, he is just about as low-key about his talent as a young man could be. In fact, when asked what the title of his winning poem is, he thought for a minute and answered, “I don’t know. I can’t remember.” When asked what the subject matter is, he said he really couldn’t remember that, either. This is another young man who, at a very young age, is a published author - no small feat in the world of writing and publishing.
Small opened the 2017 Anthology and found Winston’s poem for him. “Oh, it does have a title!” he exclaimed. I asked him to read his poem ‘Deep Inside’ aloud, and he did. The words and syntax were thoughtful and heartfelt, and his poem de-scribed the angst of a young person’s soul who is just realizing that the world and the people in it aren’t always what they appear to be at first glance.
Winston has been coming to the Boys & Girls Club since he was in the first grade. “I wish more people would come here. You learn about life choices and your future.” Even though he’s just a freshman, Winston has narrowed his college choices to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech or Kennesaw State, with plans to play football for the school he chooses. However, he added wisely, “I don’t just want to pick a school because of sports. There’s more to it than that.”
Some of the handmade puppets in the Art Room.
It’s no mistake that these three young people and more are headed down the right path in life; the staff at Boys & Girls Club in Lawrenceville are dedicated to the success of every single child there, and there are an average 252 kids in attendance every single day, Monday - Friday. Executive Director Rory Johnson, who’s been at the Club for 18 years now, is actually mentoring a second generation of kids that now walk through the club’s doors. “It’s so neat to see ‘my’ kids - and now their kids - come through here. So many come back just to thank me for the impact I’ve had on their lives, and that’s an incredible feeling,” Johnson said, as he guided an impressive tour through a game room with pool tables, ping pong tables, fuzbol tables, carpet ball, and many other games. There is also an impressive basketball gym inside the center.
“You’ll notice that there is one stick on each pool table, and that’s no accident,” Johnson said, smiling. “There’s a process, and there’s etiquette, in passing the cue from one player to the next. There’s order, and there’s interaction.” Even the video games on the big screen TVs have the kids dancing, or bowling or doing some sort of activity. And TV is limited to Fridays.
But the real heart of the club is not in the games; it’s in the Arts room, and it’s in the Learning Center. In these rooms, kids are encouraged to explore what they love to do, what makes them curious. Johnson opened a cabinet with about 40 notebooks (computers), and he pointed to a stack of IBM ThinkPads. “There’s no excuse for anyone not getting their homework done; they have all the tools right here.” In the Arts room, a handmade puppet stage holds dozens of handmade puppets, all made by the students, ages 6 - 18. Drawing, painting, writing, all the arts are explored there.
It’s accurate to say that Boys & Girls Clubs, specifically this one in Lawrenceville, are key contributors to a child’s success in life. Nationally, there’s about a 63 percent student graduation rate from Boys & Girls Clubs, with those students going on to attend college. In metropolitan Atlanta, it’s no surprise that rate is higher than 90 percent.
The Boys & Girls Club of Lawrenceville is located at 382 Stone Mountain Street in Lawrenceville, and any Gwinnett County student is eligible to participate. To learn more about Boys & Girls Club of Lawrenceville, visit www. bgcma.org/club/lawrenceville.