NATIONAL- According to recent statistics, 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read. It is estimated that 3,000 students drop out of school each day, and the majority of them are poor readers. Approximately 25 percent of students who are at serious risk of falling behind do not own books. According to www.Dosomething.org, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare, because of this children are not learning the proper ways to express their emotions and often emulate celebrities or their friends at school because they lack positive role models at home who react to anger and other emotions in a healthy manner. Violence and bullying are the results of children not being taught how to channel their emotions in positive ways.
However, there are always people out there who are striving to change this epidemic. Spoken word artist, poet and youth empowerment speaker Dana English, also known as Princess Poet, educates parents on helping their children overcome everyday issues and teaches kids how to become strong, successful young adults with bright futures. Through her books, plays and spoken word performances, Dana assists children to learn values such as empathy, compassion, forgiveness and honesty.
The Princess Poet has successfully published three books. A book of poetry called Hear My Voice and two children's books, The Princess and the Gift and Elijah the Mischievous Gets Nothing for Christmas. Her children's books have received praise from teachers, parents and school principals. Not only do her books inspire, but they encourage children to become lifelong readers, and offer uplifting messages that leave a lasting, positive influence for years to come.
In addition to being an author, Dana is a proud member of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and is the owner of Youth Expressions, a non-proﬁt youth organization she created in 2010 where she holds workshops, seminars and plays that help youth excel emotionally, socially and academically. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dana where she discussed how she got started, what she is working on and what we can expect from her in the future.
Your first book, Hear My Voice drew in readers of all backgrounds. How did the idea for the book come about and why do you think it captured the attention of a diverse audience?
I started writing at 11 and a half years-old as an outlet to express myself in a positive way. We all go through growing pains from relationships to redemption. Hear My Voice consists of stories and poetry that are derived from my personal experiences as well from those I witnessed, and is geared for both men and women. I wanted people to know that whatever it is that they are going through, they are not alone. I have always wanted to publish my book to get my feelings out there to inspire others.
How did you get into youth mentoring, and what do you feel is lacking among today's youth?
Through Youth Expressions, I staged a Black History play that featured youth from all different backgrounds and races, and everyone loved it and wanted more. So, I decided to put on another stage play, called Second Chances, and I noticed a girl who was being very disrespectful to her mother. I gave her a wake up call and told her to set an example and be a role model to her peers. She then opened up to me and expressed what she was going through, so her part in the play was modified to reflect her life. After the play, she expressed how much she learned and changed.
Youth Expressions teaches youth life lessons and helps them to get their lives back on track. It also inspires parents because they can see how it is positively impacting their children to change their lives.
We need more positive adult role models. I believe that the thing that is lacking among today's youth is that they do not have enough adults that they can trust and confide in without feeling as if they are being judged. If we had more role models, a lot of youth would change their lives around.
What has been your greatest challenge as a youth mentor, and what is your advice to youth who may be reading this article?
I never had any issues with the youth that I mentor because I set the bar early to let them know that if they want to participate in the program, they will need to be positive. Youth will do what they need to do when they want to change. The biggest difficulty has been letting go because you can only hold their hands for so long before they have to go out and face the world on their own.
For the youth who are struggling to find their way in life, I advise them to pray and meditate. Write down what changes you want to make. When you change, everything around you starts to change. Always stay positive and always be in control of you. Don't let others take advantage of your life by getting you upset.
You have been very successful in your career path so far. What do you feel attributes to that success?
Helping youth excel in their dreams. I give them my honesty to assist them in achieving their dreams.
What is the most significant thing that you have experienced in your life that has made a strong impact on you as an author?
I've been through different things such as the relationship with my father, losing loved ones and friends because of crazy stuff, and the loss of my grandmother who raised me. Each of these things has molded me into the person that I am today. Life is hard at times, but I want people to know that they have inner strength and can overcome anything.
What is the latest book that you've read?
I read a lot of poetry, drama and romance books. The latest book I read was by Mary B. Morrison. I love the way she writes because she writes similar to the way I do by incorporating poetry into the story. I also like to stay connected to my spiritual self by reading books by Tyler Perry. I admire all that he went through to get to where he is today.
You are a nursing professional who now as a promising career as an author. How were you able to switch gears and achieve balance in both professions?
I turn the light switch off and on. From 8 am to 5 pm, I'm a nurse, although sometimes an idea might pop in my head and I'll have to write it down (laughs). After 5, I am a mother, wife, writer, poet and mentor. Sometimes it can be exhausting, but in order to achieve something you have to sacrifice something.
What are you currently working on?
I am bringing Youth Expressions back to the light since I am now established in California. We will be producing the Black History play again as well as other plays on a consistent basis. I am also working on my third children's book which should be out in March 2014, as well as working on my second poetry book. I will also be releasing a youth apparel line that will continue to motivate and inspire youth to achieve greatness.
I have my hands in several different pots; I'm just doing everything that God has called me to do.
How can people contact you for speaking engagements or to purchase a book?
Any last comments or things that the readers should know?
I'm very diverse and just because you see Princess Poet it doesn't mean that it's just for girls. I believe that youth is both girls and boys. I am very real and outgoing. I also participated in a charity drive in Jamaica. I love doing charity work because I feel that it makes a good impact on the community. Everyone has a voice and a story; yours can be a lesson for someone else.