Philly hip-hop artist helps students find their voice with "Writers Matter" program

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Monday, January 16, 2023
Philly hip-hop artist helps students find their voice
EMBED <>More Videos

We're Philly Proud of students in the Writers Matter program, who use paper and a pencil to build a better future.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "Honestly writing is just my life, to be honest," said Andre Saunders. "It's who I am and it started from just being a kid and wanting to express myself and having role models."

Saunders was born in South Philadelphia and dabbled with writing raps as a student. Now, the Mount Airy native is a successful hip-hop artist with three albums.

But his latest role is beyond the recording studio, magazine articles, and TV features. He recently became the Resident Poet in the Writers Matter program after meeting its founding director, Bob Vogel.

"The program started with one teacher, one school and 80 students," said Vogel, who was inspired by a similar program in California and created his own in 2005. "Today, we have close to 3,000 students, 18 schools, and about 80 teachers."

Writers Matter takes various forms between intimate writing groups and assembly programs. Vogel and Saunders collaborated to create a new iteration centered around poetry, hip-hop, and rap.

It's already shining at Mitchell Elementary in the Kingsessing neighborhood of Philadelphia.

"It's given me a comfortable zone where I could just express myself," said 11-year-old Jerianna Batts. "I have all this stuff bottled up and I don't really share it with anybody. But when I rap it, it just comes all out."

Batts wrote an original track about doing her homework after school. Her classmates already have half of it memorized and sing along with her.

Saunders helps to workshop pieces like these, which sometimes explore much more sensitive subject matter related to the children's lives.

"We can relate on so many levels because, like, I come from the same broken neighborhoods that they come from," he said.

Saunders believes the growth of this writing program will help children become better leaders in their own lives and for the people around them.

"Each year, it gets bigger and better," he said. "And honestly, I feel like it's the foundation for what's needed for schools and for the world to be honest."

To learn more about Writers Matter, visit their website.

RELATED: Philadelphia artist illustrates stories of his neighborhood in solo exhibit