Social innovation grant provides UM student opportunity to create new student organization

Ross received the first social innovation grant from the Butler Center for Service and Leadership. Photo courtesy of Breana Ross

For Breana Ross, poetry began as a form of therapy. Now, it’s become part of her mission to bring the same remedy to adolescents in Miami-Dade County’s underprivileged neighborhoods.

Ross created the student organization Written in my Soul in spring 2017 with the goal of teaching youths, typically from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, how to use poetry as a form of healthy self-expression. She first started developing the idea in her sophomore year of high school.

“I write poetry, and I use it as a therapy to get through things,” Ross said. “So I thought, ‘If I can use it in that way, then people who are probably going through way more than I am, can definitely use it in the same way.’”

Written in my Soul started as a grant project. Ross was the first recipient of the social innovation grant from the Butler Center for Service and Leadership at the University of Miami. The grant is awarded to students who have innovative ideas of how to foster social change and benefit the South Florida community but who lack funds to finance the project.

Winning the grant gave Ross, now a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science, the opportunity to bring her idea to life. However, when the club started working with kids from an elementary school last semester, Ross said it was a “train wreck.”

“They were way too young,” she said. “And another thing you need to keep in mind is that some of the kids from these backgrounds will be very behind.”

For fall 2017, the club will include weekly sessions with middle schoolers from Charles R. Drew K-8 Center every Friday for four weeks. The workshops cover the basics of poetry, such as similes, metaphors and storytelling. Members of the organization help students not only to strengthen their writing techniques but also develop performance skills and confidence to share their art.

At the end of the sessions, there will be a poetry slam on the university’s Coral Gables campus for the kids will share their work with each other and with the community.

Junior club member Frank Hedgepeth said he strongly identified with and supported the idea of presenting poetry to students in a way that could reveal its “breadth” and “diversity,” fostering in them an emotional connection and interest in telling their own stories.

“I’ve worked with the students at Charles Drew before, but never in such a purposeful space,” said Hedgepeth, a double major in Africana studies and political science. “Being met with such positive energy and seeing them be so receptive to what we’re offering them is really encouraging.”

For Ross, seeing her club operating and actually helping kids is surreal. Though she said she stresses about making it all work, seeing the kids smiling and enjoying writing in their journals is a sweet payoff for her new organization.

“The most exciting thing about being a member is watching it grow and improve each semester,” vice president Danielle Burrell said. “The fact that I get to be a part of something that will hopefully have an impact on UM’s campus and the students of Miami-Dade County is such a blessing.”

The organization welcomes all students, with or without experience writing poetry.

“What I like about this club is that its fundamental purpose is to provide opportunities for sustained community involvement and relationship building between university students and Miami residents, as opposed to improving the campus environment,” Hedgepeth said.

Students interested in getting involved with Written in my Soul can join the club portal on OrgSync or contact Ross at