Under even the best of circumstances, being an adolescent is a challenging time. Add in home, school or social challenges, and middle school becomes “true hell” for a lot of young people.

That reality led hip-hop artist Samuel (Thompson) David and poet Desmond Bryant to pioneer a program called “Word to Life” in four Wichita middle schools – Robinson, Coleman, Truesdale and Pleasant Valley.  

The program gives students a chance to work through some of the challenges of their lives by writing lyrics or poetry about their feelings and fears.

“We did this program as a pilot last school year from March to May and we’ll be working with more kids in the coming school year,” David said. “Kids have to be achieving Cs and above, but we take a mixture of races and risk. We have some high-risk, some average-risk and some no-risk kids in the program. That’s because we realize that middle school age is a tough time for any kid, regardless of what they have going on at home or in the community.”

Word to Life is not a USD 259 program, but is a private, nonprofit organization under the umbrella of Destination Innovation, a program that helps young people “with the tools and mindset to move courageously, with purpose and discipline to activate underserved communities.”  

David and Bryant worked with USD 259’s Future Ready Advocates mentoring program to help identify students who could benefit from participating and the schools made space for the program.  

Bryant said he knows from his own experience that a teenager without access to help can easily fall under the wrong influence and find himself in serious legal trouble, or even sentenced to jail.

“We try to help these kids discover their talents and discover how to put those skills to work in a way that brings them positive results,” he said. “We want them to understand that life doesn’t have to just happen to them. That they can take action that makes life happen for them.”

Both work full-time jobs outside of their work with youth. David is a supervisor at Cox Communications and Bryant is program manager with Progeny, which is also a Destination Innovation program. Still, they’re excited about and planning the coming school year and the future of the program.  

This year, they plan to work with students in the program once a week.  They’ve also developed the framework for a summer program.

“I have connections to the hip-hop community in Wichita and the ability to introduce some of the kids to studios and recording,” David said. “We definitely hope to expand over time and we will for sure be doing a program next summer.”