By Allan Tellis

DENVER (CBS4) – Only a year after establishing a writing center in Manual High School, students were able to create their own beautiful, off-campus space to continue their vision.

After the untimely passing of their inspirational classmate, Mardale Jay, students decided to honor his legacy and put even more passion into their efforts with the writing center to one day complete Jay’s mission of “Sparking the mind that will change the world.” The center now named the MHJ writing center, in honor of the late teen, is conveniently located at 2015 East 26th Avenue, which is less than a 10 minute walk away from the high school’s campus.

(credit: CBS)

Students established the writing center in 2016 due to a strong effort by that year’s senior class, which sought to create a space to speak their mind. As emcee of the evening, current Manual senior Jahlil Latrell Carter said “I feel like the new space will give me the opportunity and the space to share my ideas with the world. Honestly, I feel like we can reach a greater audience than the local community. I think what we have going on here is a great idea and if we execute we’ll be just okay.”

Members of the writing center celebrated the grand opening of their new space on Dec. 19 accompanied by many other current students and several alumni who had founded the program initially last year.

The grand opening of the MHJ Writing Center was a spectacular and well-attended event as students and their families gathered to observe the festivities of the evening. After enjoying refreshments during an informal social hour, everyone in attendance united in the common area to hear Manual students perform prose, poetry, and other forms of written art.

(credit: CBS)

Much of the content in the student’s performances centered around issues many young adults are currently facing in the Whittier and Five Points communities. The students addressed complicated problems like gentrification, gender politics, race relations and how socioeconomics affect their lives.

Ariana Villalobos described her piece saying:

“I wrote a poem on the Mexican culture and about how gentrification plays a part in my life and having a call to action to not forget about us people of color.” Grappling with these deeply personal issues can be taxing, but luckily students now have this writing center and feel the center allowed them to have the space to break down their personal thoughts.

(credit: CBS)

As Manual junior Shalia Rice said “For me, it’s an outlet because kids nowadays don’t have an outlet. They’re always trapped inside their mind and don’t know how to get out of it and I feel like being in the writing center really helps you because it helped me do the same thing.”

With the help of a faculty advocate like Mrs. Jones, who has had the opportunity to interact with many of the students in the program starting from their freshman year up until their now senior year, Manual High School students were able to establish this platform for self-expression.

Having the opportunity and ability to express yourself can be a critical developmental step for students and many parents are greatly appreciative for the role the writing center has played in their children’s development into young adults.

Sarah Rayburn, mother of Manual alumni and writing center founding member Isabelle Rayburn, attested to the importance of the writing center in her own daughter’s life saying “She had major growth when we were doing spoken word last year. She was having some trouble dealing with the society we live in being an African-American female, so she went with the writing center and they were just so supportive, and they all came together as one.”

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