Coming up on Feb. 16, Booked On 25th will be hosting Poetry Out Loud, a regional poetry competition for kids in the Davis and Weber County areas. This competition was made possible by an Ogden-based non-profit called Nurture The Creative Mind, which by their own mission statement is dedicated to "empowering youth through partnering education, creativity, and character development." The organization has been running for over a decade and has been making as big of an impact as they can on the lives of all who pass through. Today we chat with the founder and our old friend Amir Jackson about the program and what kids are really getting out of it. (All pictures provided courtesy of NTCM.
Nurture The Creative Mind
Gavin: Hey Amir! First off, how have you been since we last chatted?
Hey Gavin. Thank you for connecting with us. Personally and professionally I have been great. I cannot complain. The future looks bright in all areas and I look forward to the exploration of all of the possibilities to come.
How did things go for the Ogden Arts Festival and how's planning going so far this year?
Well, last year was our organization's first year managing the Ogden Arts Festival and by all accounts, I was very proud of our team. It rained the first day which hurt attendance of course, but last year was the first year we hosted the festival on a Sunday and the attendance, 4-5,000, for that day was surprisingly strong. We also gave surveys to the art vendors as well as opened an electronic community survey. Those results (88 percent favorable from the artists, 78 percent favorable from the community) support my feeling that we did pretty well for our first. Of course, we want to do even better this year so we have taken much of the feedback into consideration and many adjustments. We will also be expanding the area of the arts festival this year, as well as adding an Urban Art area and two performance stages. One for music the other for theater and dance. It is our intention to make the Ogden Arts Festival one of the premiere arts festivals in the state and continue to grow art in our community.
Last time we spoke we touched on Nurture The Creative Mind. How did the idea for it come about?
In the beginning, I did not set out or planned to start a youth non-profit. I was required to do community service as part of a requirement for a Communications class I was taking while attending Weber State University. I decided that I would teach young people poetry using music lyrics as a way of establishing self-value. I continued to teach this class well after my required hours and continued doing it, pro bono, for years, funding it our of my own pocket. One day I stopped thinking about how many students we had worked with and began thinking about how many students we hadn't who could also benefit from our program. That's when things changed for me and I decided that I needed to form a non-profit to help me with this mission with empowering as many young people as possible.
Prior to starting it up, what kind of outreach did Ogden have in this area?
There are many great youth focused organizations in Ogden. Youth Impact, Boys and Girls Club, Youth Futures, YMCA, The Children's Justice Center just to name a few. We have partnered with each of these organizations in one way or another over the years. That said, Nurture the Creative Mind's programming is unique and brought something different when we came to Ogden.
What was it like for you getting everything you needed together and starting the organization up?
Nurture The Creative Mind
I truly consider Nurture the Creative Mind my life's purpose. To have found and been able to live your life's purpose is a most fulfilling feeling. I feel blessed and I am grateful. But it was not easy. I had no idea what I was doing, and not being familiar with non-profit work, I didn't know who to go to for guidance. So it was all a learning process, and I taught myself as I was doing it. Sometimes I look back and think, how in the world did I get here.
What was the response like during the first year?
The response during the first year was unexpectedly great. Each week I would teach one class poetry for one hour and at the end of each class, I would give the students one assignment. To write one poem. Without fail, there would always be students who wrote more than one that they would want to share. I think young people, like adults, just want to be heard and feel like their voice has value. I think that's what those initial classes showed, and why I continued to teach the classes and eventually pursued a non-profit: to help young people see they had a voice and that voices were valuable today, not just in the future when they become an adult.
Being a non-profit, how challenging has it been to keep things flowing both on a volunteer and participant basis?
In the beginning, it was a struggle. It was a constant grind to keep up with both. I describe it as a push-pull. I was pushing Nurture the Creative Mind in an effort to get people to help as well as recruiting students to work with. It seems crazy now, but I couldn't even get teachers or schools to allow me to work with their students for free. Now that more people are familiar with our work and its impact, it is more of a pull—not completely, mind you. We still have to grind, but much less than before.
What kind of programs and activities do you currently have going on? What do you hope kids who attend get out of the program?
We continue to expand and embrace new programming. That's the great thing about working in the field of creativity. It's all about possibilities. Currently, of our three largest projects/programs that we are offering, first, there's the apparel program. We support community youth graphic designer/illustrators, by paying them for their designs and then placing them on apparel which we then sell. Second, our recording studio. We now have our own recording studio that community youth can come in learn the basics o recording and music production. And third, Utah's Listening Room. An intimate creative space that highlights musicians, spoken word artists, dancers and other performing artists. We also have other, more traditional, classes like creative writing and painting. Also, it is important to note that ALL of our programs, classes, and projects are 100 percent fee-free. We have never in our 10 years of existence charged any young person to participate in our organization's programs. We also are the managing organization for the Ogden Arts Festival. See what I mean about ever-expanding and possibilities? I wasn't joking.
On Wednesday you'll be holding a national competition for Poetry Out Loud. Tell us a bit about the event.
Nurture The Creative Mind
Poetry Out Loud is a national competition that is held once a year that encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. The program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. The Utah Department of Heritage and Arts is the lead entity for our state and I was honored to be asked by them if I'd be interested in being the regional coordinator for Ogden, Weber, and Davis, as there wasn't one. I, of course, said yes, as I believed, and still believe, that those areas have extremely bright and talented students that should have a platform and representation.
How has it been working with Booked On 25th to host the event?
Great! To me, it just made sense to have a poetry contest in a bookstore. I just love the symbolism and visualization of that image. That and I love the idea of a local bookstore. They have been wonderful for our community and I want to support their efforts.
For those who would like to get involved or participate in the non-profit, what do they need to do?
Nurture The Creative Mind
It is really easy to get involved. The best and quickest way is to go to and view our Facebook page. You will see all the many things we are up to at any given time. Then message us on Facebook and tell us exactly how you want to get involved. We are really good about responding, so you can expect someone from the organization to connect with you within the day.
What can we expect from you and Nurture The Creative Mind over the rest of the year?
Well, you can expect us to continue to Nurture the Creative Mind of our community. That's what we have done for 10 years now, and what we will continue to do for the rest of this year and into the future.