*Stories marked with an asterisk were written by experienced contributing editors with the goal of showing North Dakota's diversity.
- - - - A first-person account by creative director, teaching artist, and community builder, Frederick Edwards Jr.
Poetry saved my life. In my first TEDx talk, I spoke about being a "voice for the voiceless." But that is no longer my mission. Now I want to use my platforms to let people tell their own story, give the narrative justice through action and opportunity. Every youth faces their own challenges, but one thing that unites them is the connection they have to each other and the sense of belonging they share through expression. It is important to feel heard, valued, and seen by the community. They matter.
I am the youngest of ten children and an unexpected addition to the family then living in Northside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Growing up, I experienced underfunding in schools, gun violence, and negative interactions with the police. During my childhood, I was oblivious to the effects of poverty and the trauma it can cause. In my late adolescence, my parents relocated to Chicago, Illinois, leaving me with my older sister who suffered from several chronic illnesses. Her resilience pushed me to adulthood. She graduated and became a nurse. I learned to care for myself as a result.
As a high school student, I struggled to balance caring for my sister and myself. I benefited from my community, which provided me with a strong support network. I obtained guidance and support from organizations such as Black Box Theater, Young Life Minneapolis, and the Beacons after-school program. Through these experiences, I learned that expression and community building are intertwined, and that art can be a therapeutic means of healing.
I performed poetry at more than five funerals during my late teens and toured colleges for poetry performances. Writing comforted me after experiencing trauma and grief. At age 15, I was motivated to create an after-school program for Minneapolis parks and recreation because of my experiences with gun violence.
I became passionate about change while in high school. During Freshman year, more than 13 of my friends were killed by gun violence and police brutality. By contrast, I was awarded a college scholarship and was the first person in my neighborhood to attend college and graduate. I left my comfort zone and relocated 300 miles away to Fargo, ND. While completing my first year of college at North Dakota State University (NDSU), I was hit by a drunk driver, changing my life forever.
Surviving the accident made me readjust, and I kept asking myself how I want to be remembered, what I want my legacy on this earth to feel like. I refocused my work and was inspired to help children in need. I began my mentoring program with children who had trouble with crime and bad behavior in the classroom. I started by volunteering at schools that had BIPOC students who were underserved. The following year, I was elected president of the Black Student Association at NDSU. In that leadership position, I planned and organized community events and leadership retreats for other BIPOC students on campus. Fast forward, and I am now teaching at a lot of the schools where I used to be a mentor.
With the growing population of BIPOCs in Fargo, its increasingly important for youth to have a safe space to express themselves, find community, and know they belong. I believe BIPOC youth in North Dakota are all too often shown overtly and covertly that they are not wanted. The BIPOC community has been disenfranchised, abused, and exploited numerous times in schools, community centers, juvenile systems, and workplaces. Instead of complaining and posting on social media, I have created art workshops that are used in the school system and detention centers. I have developed curricula for workplaces and community centers to be more welcoming. My goal is to create the society and ecosystem I want to live in.
About the Author
Fred Edwards, a distinguished Creative Director and accomplished teaching artist hailing from the Great Plains, holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, demonstrating extensive expertise and visionary leadership. As a driving force behind groundbreaking initiatives like Umoja and Fred’s Dissonance, Fred has spearheaded transformative programs fostering narrative justice and community empowerment.
Umoja, a 16-week leadership endeavor in the Fargo-Moorhead area, stands as a testament to Fred’s commitment, redirecting youth towards meaningful careers while addressing societal gaps through writing, leadership, and cultural awareness. Fred’s Dissonance, a multi-generational initiative, serves as a benchmark for positive community development, championing narrative justice and cultural empowerment, reshaping educational paradigms with culturally relevant curricula.
Fred's compelling talks and impactful spoken word performances, drawn from a rich personal journey, resonate across diverse audiences, from collegiate forums to middle schools, showcasing his ability to inspire and catalyze change. Fred embodies resilience, emerging as the unlikely tenth child following his mother's tubal ligation. His life story underscores his unwavering commitment to fostering positive change and narrative justice through community empowerment and creativity.
Umoja Writing Workshops (UWW) - Nurturing Voices of Tomorrow
Umoja Writing Workshops (UWW) engages youth in the Fargo Public School district, West Fargo Public School, Moorhead Area Public School, the Boys and Girls Club, and Juvenile Detention Center through the Rites of Passage Program. These workshops are research-based and informational on topics regarding culture, mental health, self-awareness, and unity geared for youth to learn and express their understanding of these topics through poetry and spoken word.
UWW was developed to tackle a multitude of issues faced by youth in our communities and school districts. The program seeks to help youth find their voice and build a sense of unity with their peers by expressing their intrinsic selves. Behavioral issues, lack of motivation, and truancy issues are problems UWW tackles by utilizing prompts that nurture youth involvement and expression in every step of learning. Umoja, a Swahili word meaning “unity”, embodies the support needed to progress and propel our community towards positive change.
Fred's Dissonance - Amplifying the Voices of the Global Majority
Our mission at Fred's Dissonance is to recognize and uplift the true narrative of the Global Majority by centering on their voices and experiences. By being heard and exercising our power to transform our workplaces, communities, and governments, we help make society a better place.
Global Majority is a collective term that first and foremost speaks to and encourages those so-called to think of themselves as belonging to the global majority. It refers to people who are Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, and/or have been racialized as 'ethnic minorities.'
I aim to eliminate racial, social, and economic barriers that prevent Black, Indigenous, and persons of color communities from flourishing. I am determined to highlight the stories of the Global Majority while also creating an ecosystem of belonging in the Midwest area.