I’m going to be honest. As our OU journey began, I hated poetry. So much. It frankly did not make sense to me that one would take the time to rearrange their thoughts, which could easily be expressed in a simple paragraph, in a planned format of rhythm, rhyme and meter. It seemed like a literary travesty in a sense, a sequence of words that reeked of ingenuity and a false sense of creativity. I soon learned, however, that poetry could and would indeed become the means for me to express my feelings and thoughts during my OU experience fluidly and with a definite sense of integrity and passion.

It all started when, on Day 1 at Temple University, my 15 OU family members and I met Kammika Williams-Witherspoon, a renowned poet, playwright, actress, and professor. The topic of her lecture was Telling Your Story: Journaling for Real. At this point, I was dreading knowing I would have to write in a journal. I had thought that my thoughts were best expressed vocally, as I can be rather extroverted when sharing my feelings. Yet, Mrs. Williams-Witherspoon taught me the value of keeping a journal and using writing as a means of expression. She recounted her past journal entries as a cultural anthropologist. I could see the passion and intensity secrete from her heart and skin and into my ears. She shared poems, songs, and even succinct aphorisms that she had picked up when journeying all over the world.

Then, she asked us to make our first journal entry. I was feeling cynical. I sat and looked around the room. Everyone has started writing. My thirst was unbearable, and I began to think about the not so sweet grapes I had eaten ten minutes prior at the workshop. I wrote:

Thirst ran through veins of anxiousness

I sought to quench desire and thirst

As all I saw were green grapes

Glaring at me in a bowl, connected by roots and vines

Like my thoughts, my worries, my desires

As they entered my mouth, I was disappointed

Not quite sweet, not quite sour

Not too soft nor too hard, nor juicy nor dry

Average grapes

Sometimes I must settle for mediocrity

Yet my curiosity will never keep me from trying the grapes in life

Or in Operation Understanding

This felt right. It flowed, it spoke to me. I had found the way to express myself: poetry.

On Day 3, we travelled to Word Up NYC, a poetry-slam type of place that teaches about self expression and caters to the adolescents of New York. We first heard a poem from a student, Kamone, who spoke with such intensity about being black and Jewish, and having slavery and the Shoah intertwined in her heart. This spoke to me, as an OU member, and as a citizen of the world. We then took a brief workshop by MC K-Swift, highlighting the way to not only write poetry, but and also its delivery. He gave us a task: if we could say one thing to the whole world, what would it be? I wrote:


It is universal, collective, ubiquitous, linking

We are different, but we are the same

Because the one thing that binds us is


It is passion, excitement, adventure

We strive to be individuals, yet in this we all do the same

Because the one thing that links us is


It is hatred, bigotry, discrimination

It is the good and bad, the pretty and ugly

Because the one thing that breaks us is


It is laughter, it is sobbing, optimism and pessimism

We work to live and live to work

Because the one thing that makes us is


It is what’s different that makes us the same.

I am proud to say that over the past week, I have written over twenty poems about what we have experienced. I believe I have a new calling, a new form of expressing myself. I no longer dread poetry. I embrace it. Just as I embrace Operation Understanding.

Jordan Konell, Central High, OU 2010


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