At Large in Ballard: Absolutely
The principal wonders if the “Ellen” show has called yet. The teacher marvels at the power of what has been created. The freshman students are demanding the opportunity to do what juniors and seniors did last year. Hundreds lined up for the book launch. And the tulip on the cover survived being dropped during a photo shoot.
If the seeds for this story hadn’t been dropped like acorns on a street in Ballard, I wouldn’t attempt another account. After all, the story of the high school project that has become the book, “We Are Absolutely Not Okay,” has already been aired by KING-5, featured on IndieReader and gotten a recommendation from Reader’s Digest. But as the book continues to gain attention, its grassroots effort to empower other teenagers may become a really big oak, with branches reaching across the country.
What started as an author visit by Ballard writer Ingrid Ricks to Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds last winter has become an e-book, a paperback, a website and a new mission: Teens helping teens: through personal storytelling.
A friend told high school English teacher Marjie Bowker about her neighbor’s new book, “Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Memoir.” After the first chapter, Bowker thought, ‘If the book continues like this, my students will love it.’ As a teacher in a small, alternative high school where every student has already faced serious challenges, Bowker is always looking for books that will speak to her students. Bowker found the narrator’s honest account of a repressive situation ultimately inspiring. Moreover, Ingrid was local and thrilled to visit.
Inspired by Marjie and Ingrid, the students began writing their own narratives. The students’ writing was so powerful that the collaboration eclipsed any other planned curriculum. By spring Marjie and Ingrid had decided to offer an intensive four-day course for students who wanted to take their writing to the next level of polishing and publishing.
Student Carolina Mooney recalled that she planned to take intensive photography for her mini-session until she got a phone call from Ingrid Ricks telling her that she “had” to work on her piece because hers was “one of the best.” No one had ever told Mooney ‘you’re the one’ before. It made her feel very good and although she first released her story under an alias, she has since begun using her real name. In a nod to the missed photography class, she was enlisted to create the cover photograph, one that involved dropping and smashing flowerpots for just the right effect.
During the intensive session Ingrid met with every student, helping them hone the power of their personal story. For anyone who doesn’t know Ingrid Ricks, she is persistence and ambition in a small, stubborn package. Once she decided the stories needed to become an e-book collection, she was relentless -- even more so once they’d decided to release a self-published hard copy.
Marjie Bowker says of the experience, “I became a slave to it.” Although Bowker and Ricks first met for coffee in January, it was only five months later when the book launch drew hundreds to a yogurt shop in Edmonds. Conceived as a one-time project, now all of this year’s underclassmen want the same opportunity to work with Ingrid and tell their stories. Many of last year’s authors are now serving as mentors.
Those first 14 students shared true stories from their lives, at great personal and emotional risk. Their peers and family members, in turn, were able to laud their courage without judgment, and to recognize the power created by speaking difficult truths, from gang rites to cutting, from dangerous boyfriends to life on the streets. Once these lock boxes were opened, the very telling of the stories revealed special powers. These teenagers are absolutely more than okay now, and committed to sharing the “key” with local peers and teenagers the world over.
For more information or to purchase, see their website at http://weareabsolutelynotokay.org/ All proceeds support future efforts of young writers through Scriber Writer/Publishing Program. The teacher and students will discuss the project at the Third Annual Ballard Writers event on November 24th.