Emotional night ends celebration of learning 2023


Giang Do

Aubrey Barnes, a local spoken word artist, reads his poems in the Brew.

Jack Brandt

Local artists and community members spoke at an event in the brew on Wednesday, May 10, for the end of Augustana’s Celebration of Learning. The event highlighted spoken word poetry and themes of personal and societal conflict. Spoken word poetry is a form of writing where lines need not rhyme and emphasis is placed on rhythm and musical qualities.

Aubrey Barnes, a teacher and spoken word artist from Rock Island, spoke at the event while David Staples, a current Augustana student who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit, read works by friends and acquaintances of his from the Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP) program.

Local artists Mika El, Reginald Henderson and DK Imamu Akachi performed original works about hardship and redemption, while Rock Island high school and middle school students also spoke at the event.

Senior Grace Nestich planned the event for Augustana’s Celebration of Learning, inspired by her experience interning at the Scott County Jail last fall. She realized that Augustana had the resources to help these people on their path to reintegration.

“Being able to reintegrate and connect with the community is so integral in lowering recidivism,” Nestich said. Recidivism describes the act of convicted persons reoffending. 

With that in mind, Nestich reached out to Dr. Sharon Varallo, Dr. Jason Mahn and Dr. Allie Barringer, professors involved in APEP. She wanted to bring awareness to the writings of APEP students earlier this school year.

“Learning from the community is so important,” Nestich said. “We really wanted community speakers to be at this event, not just Augie students.”

Barringer taught a J-term class on human behavior for APEP this year. Like Nestich, she sees the partnership as an opportunity for learning on both sides.

“One of my goals was to bring our resources and our abilities to the community, but also to recognize the community itself as a wonderful resource,” Barringer said.

APEP is just one partnership that illustrates the effort Augustana makes to benefit the surrounding community.

“It has to be a reciprocal relationship,” Barringer said.

Barringer enjoyed teaching her class to twelve men at East Moline Correctional Center. Despite the untraditional classroom, the experience felt the same.

“They loved diving in, which was really fun as a professor, just to work with students who were there and hungry,” Barringer said.

In addition to works by APEP students, works by local artists were also read. Aubrey Barnes opened the event with his work, “Rocks Don’t Roll.” Barnes works with youth in the area helping them to find their voice through writing.

“I was always a fan of writing but I never knew spoken word poetry was art,” Barnes said. “They never really talked about it like that, it was more so them giving us traditional poets.”

Barnes graduated from Rock Island High School in 2010. He said that the aesthetics of rap inspired him to perform spoken word, not just a creative pursuit but also a way of processing hardship and strain.

“A lot of students come to these programs with stuff that they want to get off their chest,” Barnes said.

Barnes said that Rock Island is sometimes seen as “the last” of the Quad Cities, but there are still things to be proud of, for example, the precedent that Augustana sets for other schools.

“There was a period where students would be kind of apathetic to the outside,” Barnes said. “But now, seeing how Augie students just are very engaged with what’s outside their campus, it’s just really encouraging to see.”