Award-Winning Author Helps Teens Get Published While Increasing Their Literacyby Greater Diversity News December 13, 2019
Empath. Visionary. Trailblazer. Paradigm Shifter. Hollywood, South Carolina’s native son, Shaytee Gadson, author of Hallelujah! In Hollywood: A True Hollywood Story, is doing what no other African American published author has done – and that is to get urban high school students to become published authors – by the time they graduate from high school. At the same time, students show significant increases in literacy and substantially higher standardized test scores.
Gadson has implemented the Rough Writers Program in Houston, TX, which addresses literacy, student voice, and student choice among urban youth. His pioneering technique, Literary Hip Hop or #LipHop, uses the key components of Hip Hop- to encourage students to write from their hearts, and to write the real issues- that they want to share with the world.
“A profound love of literacy gave me a voice in this world, and a choice in this world,” Gadson said. “I want to do everything in my power to ensure that African American and Latino children, the most marginalized, underserved and maligned demographic groups in America’s schools, have the opportunity to express themselves. I want to clog the School to Prison Pipeline by teaching students to write masterpieces like mine.”
Gadson travels over a thousand miles to speak to the students, about the deep trauma that shaped the course of his family, that he wrote about in his memoir- everything from his father being shot by the police at South Carolina State College, (now South Carolina State University), in the first school shooting on an American college campus, the Orangeburg Massacre- to his father’s (Mayor Gadson) scandalous terms in office, as the first African-American Mayor of Hollywood, SC and the first elected official in United States history, to ever be banned from the place that they were duly elected to serve, by a judge. Gadson leaves students transfixed and entranced, as he recalls the stories of the ravages of drugs that his arsonist, crack-selling and crack-addicted brother endured. Gadson captivated the students, with his own struggles with alcoholism, single fatherhood and foray into the streets selling drugs, as he attempted to make sense of a life that he desperately wanted to change.
Gadson uses his life experiences to show students that writing can be empowering as well as therapeutic. Students at South Early College High School and Worthing High School in Houston reap the benefits of Gadson’s inspiration, with relatable family stories so much that students want to write their own stories; and, Gadson guides them through the process in the Rough Writers Program. Students become more engaged in reading Gadson’s material, because that is appealing to them; they also learn to analyze and think critically, which are skills, students must learn to master. With the enriched vocabulary and literary elements, Gadson’s tour de force
inspires students to want to read intriguing literature. At one Houston high school, 97% of the students showed significant gains on the State assessment.
“To have a visit from an author of a book I am interested in reading, helps me to understand where he was coming from when he was writing the book and where he came up with the ideas that he included in the book,” said Jianna Lawson, a student at South Early College High School. “That is deeper than you get from just reading the book and it’s more cool.”
The acclaimed author says his daughters, Quati and Qynn, were his motivation to strive to extricate himself from his dire circumstances, and that writing about the agony saved his life. When students read and listen to Gadson’s true to life experiences, and learn that his mother Linda Gadson- a praying woman, who is the first African-American woman to graduate from the oldest college in the South, the College of Charleston- and is the reason behind the Hallelujah, they make connections with the matriarchs in their own families.
“This is a story that people can relate to and if they put this on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) more people would be engaged and would be able to pass this test,” said Robert Mooney, a student at Worthing High School.
The desire to become published authors becomes a reality, once students are introduced to an excerpt from Gadson’s book, and after they meet him.
Gadson is the 2015 Harlem International Film Festival Co-Winner for Best Screenplay. He attended The College of Charleston and Morris College and is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
For more information about how to get the Rough Writer Program in schools across America, contact Shaytee Gadson at [email protected]