One day in early 2016 Heather Bobula reached out to ask me how she could bring POPS the Club to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Over the phone she told me that when she was young and her own loved one went to prison, the experience was crushing. Eventually Heather's therapist suggested that as part of her healing, she volunteer for an organization supporting young people with incarcerated family. In her Google search, Heather discovered POPS the Club, and so she reached out. “I want to bring POPS to Pennsylvania,” she said. “Tell me what to do.”
She and I worked on her presentation to the school board, and Heather's passion convinced them to support her efforts. In the fall 2016, under the artful, inspired leadership of art teacher Jennifer Morrison, with Heather's volunteer support, POPS the Club launched at Steelton Highspire junior/senior high.
POPS Steelton Highspire has been so impressive, last fall the local Fox Affiliate TV station ran this story. In its wake, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and his artist wife, Frances Wolf, decided to host a POPS the Club art exhibit at the Governor’s mansion. The exhibit of POPS the Club students' artwork from across the country will happen later this year. I promise to keep everyone abreast.
One day in late April, Jennifer and Heather made arrangements for me to meet some of their kids "in person." Jalen Brown, Marlyn Davis, Kennedy King and Joe Williams gave up their lunch hour to talk to me in a Zoom conference call. I was stunned when I saw these young people I'd known only through the work they have created. Kennedy’s brilliant drawings and paintings grace almost every fifth page of our latest anthology, and the POPS Steelton Instagram page tells tales of the many art and writing projects these kids take on. But I know that stepping over the threshold into a room of strangers is tough, and I also know that throughout our history, most students who come to POPS meetings (they're self-selected, after all) are 16 or older; a very few ninth graders have participated. But all four of these Steelton kids are 14 years old, eighth graders, and yet there they were, willing to talk to a stranger over a computer screen about how prison has impacted their lives. They shuffled their feet, mumbled through bites of sandwiches, but they told me that POPS has lit up their lives, their minds, and their hearts. “I brought Marlyn to the club,” Kennedy said, “because I knew he needed to be here, too. We all feel better at POPS."
“What is it you like best about POPS meetings?” I asked.
“Friends,” Jalen said. “We’re like a family.”
Here’s the thing about POPS the Club. Our nation has an incarceration addiction, and until we kick that, young people like Kennedy, Maryln, Jalen and Joe need POPS the Club. Some days, of course, because the need for understanding, kindness, generosity and help is deep and wide, POPS leaders fret that what goes on in these club meetings “isn’t enough.” As Jennifer said it. “To be honest, some days I’m discouraged, like maybe we’re not making a difference…”
The kids shook their heads when she said that.
“It makes a big difference,” Joe said.
I can’t wait to know the date for the art show, but meantime, know how grateful we are to all of you for making a difference.
Whenever I’m discouraged, I look at Kennedy’s work, like this painting titled Embrace, and I understand how much POPS matters. And it’s because of you that POPS will keep changing lives.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Executive Director and Co-Founder
POPS the Club
In the Key of Love
Please join us if you can at the launch of our fifth collection of student writing and artwork. Students from eight LA-area POPS Clubs will perform, with guest artists, hosted by Bernardo Cubria, MC'd by Siana-aïti Moirae.