Finding the Voices of a New Generation of Writers

For a child, becoming a good writer is one of the most powerful acts imaginable.

By Gerald Richards

The author is the CEO of 826 National, an award winning network of nonprofit writing centers that inspires more than 30,000 students nationwide.

I say this as someone who grew up in Harlem in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a Harlem almost unrecognizable today. It wasn’t always the safest neighborhood; my grandmother liked knowing I was in the house and staying out of trouble. As a result, I spent a lot of time writing. Personally, I was a fan of science fiction: one of my first stories was called The Lightning Kid, about a boy who was struck by lightning and became something more than human. Writing was exciting for me. It allowed me to create worlds so far removed from my reality and always filled with endless possibilities.

Writing became a passion. I love the unbridled power of creation. The ideas are yours, and the places they take you are of your own making. The people you imagine are people you want to know (or wish you knew), and the world that springs into life is the one you create. That world may last one page, or one thousand, but it is forever yours.

But the real joy of writing is in the sense of accomplishment and pride when you can say: “I wrote this.”

That sense of accomplishment is a part of the magic of the 826 National network of creative writing and after-school tutoring centers. The creativity and sense of pride is something that every student involved in our programs feels.

The ability to write is important for all young people. Expressing your own thoughts and creating your own story help boost confidence and self-esteem. Through writing, students can find their own voices — and at 826 you will always find a volunteer or a staff member eager to listen.

We make writing fun, but the skills our students learn are serious and will serve them well for years to come. Today’s students will be asked to write extensively when they join the workforce, and it’s our job to make sure they are prepared to think creatively and write clearly.

Our methods are effective. 826 focuses on one-on-one attention, bringing students together with adults from the community to build strong relationships. Our spaces are designed so that having fun and being creative is the norm, not the exception. On any given day, you can find students writing poems for pets or scripts for their own films: they pursue projects to wherever their imaginations will take them. Our project-based approach allows young people to take ownership over their work from start to finish. This method also helps make writing accessible — and allows all of our students to become published authors.

826 National is excited to partner with Medium and use this platform to bring our students’ writing to a larger audience. Putting our students’ published work on Medium is a natural extension of what we do with students across the country.

When a student leaves an 826 in-schools project, workshop or field trip, they leave with an original piece of their own writing, a tangible product they can hold in their hands and know they created. That’s the pride of creation that captured my imagination as a child, and Medium offers a new platform for them to share their amazing stories, scripts, poems and more.

We have already begun sharing student posts at I look forward to sharing more posts with you and know it is not the last time you will be seeing these authors in print.