The Wings of La Mariposa

On this day the governors of La Alma
proclaimed Youth On Record
a social justice organization

It was a day some snickered,
some sneered, some jeered

The community at large cheered La Mariposa
peering into mirrors of self doubt,
inferiority complexes and barrels of disbelief,
turning over leaves from falling dreams,
from making something out of nothing
to taking old things we knew
and making them new,
speaking truth to news cameras
in search of sound bites,
barking at the heavens
a triumph
of horn lines,
rapping 16 bars at a time
about transformed lives,
watching the street signs change
under disappearing telephone lines,
in gentrifying times
we thought we might change something too

So we asked You
to support a vision

My son asked me last week about Capitalism
My response was a story about $2.1 million
collective footnotes in history, a building
that would broadcast the next seven generations,
constructed on the backs of artists,
activitists, dusty foot philosophers
and working class dreamers,
brave enough to collaborate with bigger money,
and big money brave enough to collaborate with the people

A step in a direction
of shedding the divisions
that imprison humanity’s wings

It was a day of celebration en La Alma,
a day we all breathed with less fear,
a day we knew you would remember us
standing here
speaking with you
the wings of La Mariposa.


~ a poem to mark the grand opening of Youth On Record’s Youth Media Studio on the West Side of Denver

 Speaks, Kalyn, Yoda, Nate


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Future Town

Future Town
     by Molina Speaks

The future of music lifts
Ancient hieroglyphs in sound waves
Modern airplay must give way
The new creative class is coming

Humming, hovering, hustling
to be heard, our words curve
Mockingjay designs, dagger verbs
our picket signs

Old lines become shadows and we shade
Done standing in lines, music will even pay to play

We drown days of sorrows in cluttered bedrooms, unfinished basements, gentrified stoops, street corners, opening garage doors,
planting miracles into unlit space, endless time,
designing our own futures so we will not be swallowed
by dust bowls or ghosts in the machine

We are
not the mere relics of strange fruit,
not the forgotten hands of intertwined roots
We sculpted the bricks, leveled the floors and mixed cement for these buildings, and we want more than what we have been given access to

We deserve to be heard, so yes, we will even pay to play
Even if it’s just to spit the fire of lyrics to near nonexistent crowds, most whom will not hear the brilliance in the poetry of even one verse over the roar of beer, cell phones, sidetalk
We still write in chalk on sidewalks
You never know how you may reach the next one like you

Art will always say “I am Here”,
riding a bucking bull into Future Town waving two fish,
carrying two buckets of water and organ keys
into Aquarius

Be you Ol Skool, True Skool or New Age
the tags on the high beams are always the same
Adapt or Die
That’s music

We weather the edges left of center with our right brains
saddling it, circling days of crows that cray the decays of the age

Do you see a web that could upend the top down and flip it on its head?
Do you envision a collapse and a revision of disposable culture?
Or just The Collapse?
Can you envision a new system of economic and cultural exchange?
Or do you only see the cash?

We thread
Skill sets
As artists
We flex

Whether you wax Dystopian Utopia or Utopian Dystopia
We do not wait for outcomes, we create the context

A call to La Alma we address the most pressing issues of this design
The artist knows she can confront the education crisis, and through music, reverse the school-to-prison pipeline
The focused activist knows it is not about solving but experimenting
He actively addresses the systems’ isms
A life vision that reengages disenfranchised suns and daughters
Deeper relationships within the village
Land, food,clothing, shelter, water and music

To crowdsource the alleyways
Provide direct access to the underserved
Convert startup and revenue streams to unsuspected dreamers
Create capacity for new content in up-and-coming markets
Draft policies to make up-and-coming a reality for communities who are not, but need to be, and deserve to be


It is our responsibility to activate ourselves, advocate wealth, and create healthy space in vibrant places where the soul of humanity speaks loudest through the teeth of resilient youth who don’t give a FUCK
about any of this fancy language

They came to sing
They came to shimmy, to shake
They came to two step, doo wop, lindy hop, gogo, break
Pop, lock, salsa, merengue, bachata, krump, twerk–Orale!
They came to smile
They came to laugh
They came to play

We owe it to ourselves to be there with them
In the schools, in the parks, in the heart centers of Community
Downtown, uptown, ghettotown, underground, aboveground

Future Town.


[Live poeticizing at the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington, DC.  Presented October 28, 2014 on a panel featuring Youth On Record, recognized for music education.]

The Uncomfortable Truth about the Arts in Schools

Following is a guest blog by artist HK, who is an artist in the way she writes, plays piano, dances, and expresses all aspects of life.  Following is a critical essay she shared with me about the relationship between arts and education, two aspects of life she is most passionate about.  I asked her to share her writing with The Artist Lens.  ~ Molina Speaks

Guest Blog: “The Uncomfortable Truth about Arts and Schools”
by HK
Artist and Educator


The arts have always been used during times of protest to tell a suppressed story. The arts are provocative and raise questions from even the most disengaged and timid. There is more to the story than budget cuts when it comes to the arts being removed from our schools.  In search of the full story, we must be willing to be uncomfortable. We must be willing to seek out and listen to long-silenced voices within our system of education.  Artists and underserved students know discomfort well.  I say we must be willing to be uncomfortable because when we are uncomfortable we instinctively begin to seek relief. When the environment is right, this leads to questioning, collaboration, and eventually the creation of a new possibility.

I’ve coordinated, participated in and observed many artist residencies in schools.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these experiences and the tension that often exists between the visiting teaching artist and the classroom teacher. I’ve seen residencies arranged with little to no planning, teaching artists placed in a room insufficiently sized for what they are trying to create with students, and artists left alone with very large groups of students they don’t know. During some incredible assemblies and performances in schools, I have found myself as the only adult (outside of the artist) in an auditorium of students. In these moments I wonder: Where did all the teachers go? Where is school leadership? Why isn’t anyone concerned that there might arise an issue that the teaching artist cannot manage alone?  Most importantly perhaps, I wonder why none of the adults are interested enough to prioritize the time and/or stick with their students through a fresh, creative experience.  (And yes, as someone who has always worked in schools, I understand that opportunities to “get work done” [without students] can feel few and far between).

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Arts Fuel Student Dialogue About Sustainability

Manhattan Middle School – Boulder CO, November 13, 2013

Through a collaboration with Marda Kirn and Eco Arts Connections, I visited Manhattan Middle School in Boulder CO.  I performed acapella raps for several groups of students, and wrote a verse about culture and sustainability with a group of mostly Latino students over breakfast burritos and OJ. 

I facilitated a 70 minute workshop in Mr. Arbuckle’s 7th grade social studies class.  They have been talking about “sustainability” and how to make the world a healthier place that people can enjoy for a long time.  My focus was to broaden the definition of “sustainability” to include personal, cultural and artistic considerations.  I focused my commentary on the idea that the personal is political, meaning that everything we do impacts the broader social environment, and that even kids vote everyday: what kind of clothes they wear, what they eat, the language they use, the music they listen to, how they treat people and animals, how they take care of their bodies, and environmental choices like whether or not to recycle.

We discussed the arts and how the arts relate to democracy, and also sustainability.  I wanted them to feel, see, create, and experience a human process of collaboration,  change, and exchange.  Students were broken up into groups of five.  Each group was given a large piece of butcher paper and markers.  They were instructed to: 1) Think broadly about sustainability; 2) represent their ideas through lines, shapes and color (without feeling like they had to draw anything concrete); 3) to include words, and to see “poetry” in the simplest of words.

Students were not allowed to talk or converse with each other about design.  They were instructed to begin creating together, organically.  They were given 10 minutes.  Without knowing so in advance, they were asked to leave their creations and rotate to another group’s canvas.  They were instructed to observe for one minute.  Then they began interacting with the canvas in front of them, with these instructions: 1) Continue the story; 2) Challenge the story.  There were four groups, and they all had about 5 minutes to work on each canvas. 

I began to write poetry and rap lyrics on the board, inspired by their work.  They were given an open invitation to come up to the board individually and interact with the words. 

We spent the last 15 minutes debriefing the exercise.  I used Visual Thinking Strategies to facilitate the conversation.  Students observed their collective work.  They were asked to describe what they saw and heard, and to ask questions about the process.  They wondered aloud about what sustainability means, what it means to be human, and why some students chose to set trees on fire, represent blood, or write negative ideas in an otherwise beautiful representation of human creativity. 

(I forgot to point out, perhaps because I was not conscious of it in the moment, that we were using a lot of resources, in paper and ink, to explore sustainability.  I think… this is ok… Human….) 

“Wow, what did we just do?” one student concluded.

“What in the world are we doing here?” another asked.  Great question.

Students inspired these words, which I wrote on the board:

Words become diagrams, whispers on butcher paper
free energy tracing tree lines
and arrows, I
climb Manhattan
with young captains
of Design.

What’s sustainable? In my mind I see a star
The sun will plant the seed, the poetry deep in me
The tree will hold the rain, the water will cleanse my frame
I evolve, revolve, walking 365, my dream is to stay alive…

Stay alive.

Community Charter School of Cambridge

A booking at Salem State University for National Hispanic Heritage Month led to several opportunities to work with youth in Boston and Cambridge.   Round the corner from MIT, this school boasts one of the most rigorous and impressive college prep programs in the nation, with open doors to students from underserved communities in the Boston area.

Read CCSC’s write-up on my visit:


Boston Arts Academy

Master Artist Class in public performance art by Molina Speaks

Boston Arts Academy, mixed majors, September 2013.


Boston Arts Academy is a laboratory and a beacon for artistic and academic innovation. Boston Arts Academy prepares a diverse community of aspiring artist-scholars to be successful in their college or professional careers and to be engaged members of a democratic society.