Artist, poet and musician Gregory McPherson (who goes by Gregory II) launched Poetry and Chill in 2017 to have a platform for he and other local artists to share their work through open mic nights and workshops. When high school kids began attending open mic events, Gregory II realized there was a need for metro kids to have a similar opportunity for self-expression. He met Wayland Cubit, who ran for Oklahoma County sheriff in 2020 and leads FACT, an officer-led mentoring program for at-risk youth, who asked Gregory II if
he’d be willing to lead a workshop with the FACT youth.
Gregory II began working with 15 kids at Northeast Community Center in an after-school program focused on literacy and writing skills and encouraging self-expression. Soon, teachers and schools were requesting workshops, and Poetry and Chill Kids was founded in late 2018, becoming a nonprofit organization in early 2020.
From discussing poetry and hip hop to breaking down rap lyrics and popular movies, Poetry and Chill gives kids a safe space to explore their feelings and opinions. Workshop leaders are all volunteers, and a licensed professional therapist attends all sessions to help identify when kids need ongoing support.
“It can be hard to get kids talking and they have stuff on their minds that they’re not letting out,” said Gregory II. “But now we get to see what is going on with them. These workshops allow kids to be themselves and have group discussions.”
Now Gregory II sees more than 300 students a week in area schools across many districts and provides Thursday night workshops, which have transitioned from in person to virtual and are open to any middle or high school students. Both have provided opportunities for students and their teachers to connect on a deeper level.
“We are bridging the gap between teachers and students, humanizing teachers and [showing teachers] what kids who are acting up every day are going through,” said Gregory II.
He also works with area organizations like the juvenile detention center, Sisu Youth Services, Pivot and others to serve at-risk youth. Prior to the pandemic, a college tour program took the Poetry and Chill team to more than 30 colleges and universities, providing live music and a safe place for expression.
The organization also offers free lesson plans for elementary through high school kids to explore topics like self-love, culture appreciation, creating poetry, writing rap songs and journaling. Learn how your kids can get involved and how you can support the organization at poetryandchillokc.com.