Opening Doors and Minds After Gun Violence

April 29, 2017

Set against a backdrop of the magnificent, vibrant colors of Ioan Popoiu’s paintings at Gallery RIVAA, poets recited works full of frustration, passion, and hope in front of a full house on April 21st. The spoken-word event, part of the Open Doors project, featured Slam poet Steven Willis as well as Coler Hospital residents affected by gun violence. 


The reading was the first in a series of events dedicated to sharing the poetry and personal narratives of the patients in hopes of creating public dialogue around the issues of violence and social justice.


Slam poet Steven Willis opened the evening’s poetry reading, which also featured patients from Coler Hospital.

Photos by Piaskowski



Launched in 2016, the Open Doors project uses creativity workshops, individual coaching, and grants to help men from Coler Hospital, a long-term rehabilitation facility at the northern end of the Island, share their stories, in hopes of inspiring others to make changes in their own lives and communities. Past visiting artists have included D. Watkins, a former drug dealer who became an author, and poet David Tomas Martinez. 


The evening started with Willis, a two-time World Slam Poetry finalist, reciting a powerful and provocative piece about the love-hate relationship with loyalty within “the hood.” Only 23 years old, Willis writes about growing up in the tougher parts of Chicago in the early 2000s. It is an in-your-face kind of poetry, one that slams your core. 


When Willis was done, participants from the Open Doors project – Rony Lys, Ramon Cruz, and Vincent Pierce – came up, one by one, to share their own poems or personal narratives with the captivated audience. (Micha Harris read a work of Andres Molina, who was unable to attend.) The stories and images flowed between childhood dreams of becoming a professional baseball player to gun violence in the street as kids, from becoming disabled in an instant, to sharp, cutting words about raising Hispanic or African-American children in America. 


The Open Doors project is directed by Jennilie Brewster, an artist herself, and supported by the Angelica Patient Assistance Program (known as Angelica), which works to improve the lives of disadvantaged patients in long-term care facilities in New York City. Angelica was founded in 2005 with programs at Goldwater and Coler hospitals, but expanded beyond the Island after Goldwater Hospital closed its doors.  


Angelica is based on the idea that, by engaging a patient’s imagination and exposing him to more stimulating interactions, he can achieve a greater sense of control over his own life. The group offers services such as wellness days, movie nights, outings to restaurants, and a variety of clubs, including chess and hip-hop. 


Angelica President Trisha Duval says she’s looking forward to doing more with both Open Doors and RIVAA. “Being a part of this and knowing that I did something to make this happen and to better, or open up, the lives of these men feels great,” she said.




by Rony aka S.i.o


They don’t feel my pain!!

I fall, I rise, I make mistakes, I live, I learn,

I’ve been tall, I’ve been small,

I’ve grown mentally, psychologically as well as spiritually!

What do you see when you look into my eyes?

The laughs, the smiles, the jokes. The ultimate disguise?

They don’t feel my pain!

Do they see long days and long nights? The constant fights?

We call him Phantom pains!

Have you felt your legs, your toes, messing with your brains?

I toss and turn, damn thoughts of concern, praying I don’t pull my tube from my nose or cause my trachea to bleed.

Do they see me struggle just to get out of bed or to fall asleep?

That chronic spasms shoot through my shoulders and back!

Now look into my eyes. Do you still see the same?

Just like I thought, they don’t feel my pain! But I remain the same … Humble, give thanks and keep a smile to wash away those dirty clouds

they don’t feel my pain.



How to Raise an African American Child

by Vince Pierc


Birth them in Northern city

but send them south

when they miss behave


Let them dream of


a rapper or ball player


teach them to fear

the police

and to never swim


to believe

in the need

for loyalty

and never hesitate

to test the loyalty of those around them


fill their ears with music,

Rap, R&B

try to avoid the gossip


They must learn

how to survive

to stick together

to never worry

about impressing the girls or their friends


to always have respect

for each other

to always have common sense


Teach them to stop killing each other

and themselves





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