*Last week I participated in a poetry slam event and having not written anything in years I searched through some of my work from the late 1990s. The fact that with a few edits my spoken word piece was just as relevant today as it was then reveals a universal truth that while the details may change the themes of human life do not.
My piece was about the necessity for people of working class backgrounds to push themselves beyond their everyday realities. Growing up in New York City, I have committed my share of petty crimes (stealing candy for one) but also been a hair away from more serious charges (armed robbery). To overcome that background took me taking the mindset of not settling for what was presented to me; if I had I might have ended up as a career criminal. This insistence on pushing for more is how every immigrant family and group eventually enters the middle class.
The key to classic literature is that it makes people recall these universal truths. The theme unrequited love is at the center of Romeo and Juliet and can be understood by young people centuries after its initial performance because young people are still pining after their crush. I don’t pretend that my writing is in the same ballpark as Shakespeare but I do believe it is at least the same sport.
Similar to me as a teenage New Yorker in the 1990s, the youth I performed for have potential. Similar to me they need some impetus to realize it. The only question is whether or not they will imagine something more than living in their neighborhoods and working at the local supermarket. That existence would be fine, but young people need to shoot a bit higher.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.