Key to a flourishing workplace? Spoken word

Oak Parker wants to bring poetry to the corporate world

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Oak Parker Jamael "Isaiah Makar" Clark is on a mission to show the corporate world just how beneficial spoken word poetry can be to workplace culture and, ultimately, the self-fulfillment of employees.  

The Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate and alum of OPRF's Spoken Word Club is so confident about the mission that over the summer he left his position as District 97's spoken word coordinator — which is funded by the Oak Park Education Foundation — to devote his full attention to building Impact Makars. 

Clark offers what he calls Makarshops to HR professionals and employees of large companies. The workshops, focusing on spoken word poetry and impromptu creativity, are designed to help people open up. 

"Unfortunately, a lot of people hide themselves when they clock in, so during the workshops I'm extracting what they suppress," Clark said during a recent interview. 

Participants write poems on orange sheets of paper. Random reflections (Clark calls them "Aha! Moments") that spring to mind are written on blue sheets of paper, then tossed to the front of the room. 

By the end of the workshops, people who entered the experience reticent and subdued often leave much looser. 

"Some even say, 'I wasn't looking forward to this and didn't want do this since I'm not creative, but it was a lot better than I thought it'd be,'" said Clark. 

Once the Makarshops are finished, Clark packages the employees' anonymous poems and musings into what he calls a Makarzine (the word "makar" comes from the Greek word makarios, meaning creative artist/poet). 

"The Makarzines are creative analysis reports that companies can use not only internally to address certain workplace issues and create different practices, but also externally for marketing and branding purposes," Clark said, adding that each Makarzine can be customized, based on how a company plans to utilize it. 

In Clark's first Makarzine, which is divided into a workplace epic in three acts, employees anonymously muse and lament. The result is critical feedback that is honest and candid, yet fun. 

For instance: "Meetings and more meetings / Oh, how I feel they are my life some weeks. / We have meetings and nothing is solved. / We should be treated as family when making decisions." 

Clark said his three years in District 97 helped him hone his big idea and gave him confirmation that spoken word can help not only students in the classroom, but adults in the workplace. 

"Three years ago, bringing spoken word poetry into the professional development realm was just an idea," Clark said. "I was a teaching-artist in the district, but I also did conferences and presentations [in the corporate world]. I'm glad I did both at the same time because I was able to blend both practices. 

"So it's really been a three-year experiment in prototyping and developing a case for how spoken word poetry can help address a lot of things in the workplace that are trending," Clark said. "And a lot of things that are trending have to do with creativity, innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, collaboration, diversity and inclusion — these buzzwords. When I hear them, I think of spoken word poetry." 

Clark said his ultimate goal is to build Impact Makars into social enterprise focused on workplace development through the arts. 

"My goal is to take these poems and workshops and provide creative and innovative practices that create more diverse and inclusive working environments and culture," Clark said. 

"At some point, these middle-school and high-school students will be in these working environments, which I want to change," he added. "So by the time they become the next leader, the next CEO, the next executive, they know how to create working environments that empower employee voice and give employees a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership of their identity because when you suppress your identity, you're not allowed to be yourself." 

For more info on Impact Makars, visit https://impactmakars.com/. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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Joseph Smith from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2019 8:29 PM

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. Francis Bacon

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