Northwood High Teacher Shares the Importance of Spoken Word on World Poetry Day

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Terrence Foushee hopes to inspire the next generation of leaders by having them recognize and validate their feelings on paper

Terrence Foushee

By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Terrence Foushee was a high school senior when poetry changed his life.

A Chapel Hill High School teacher encouraged him to participate in a poetry showcase for Black History Month. “I wrote and performed a poem about my experience as a young Black man living in Chapel Hill in the early 2000s,” he explains. “A decent amount of students were there, and I remember my hands shaking so vigorously.” 

Once he recited his poem from memory, the immediate, positive feedback from the crowd left Terrence exhilarated. “It was the first time I realized the power of reflection, and that sharing our stories can lead to revolution and real change,” he says. 

Today, Terrence is an English teacher and the poetry club advisor at Northwood High School and is continuously inspired by how his students utilize what they’ve learned in class.

“Some of my students have used their poems as their college identity essays, to both depict the peaks and valleys in their lives and apply creative writing and performance as a skill in interaction with intergenerational groups,” he says. “I think a lot of teachers might not recognize right away that students are very socially aware. They know what is going on in the world around them, and as teachers, it’s part of our job to help them navigate and equip them for the times we are living in.”

Terrence encourages his students, especially those feeling frustrated by current events, to write. “Writing is such a great tool for processing emotion,” he says. “In both my classes and poetry club, I try to give students the platform to write about the things that matter to them and to use school as a venue to research and explore topics they care about.” 

He advocates for recognizing and validating one’s own emotions as a starting point. “This is the part that can move you into doing real work in the world, not only understanding and identifying what you think and feel, but how you can use what you read and learn to back up the poignant points you’re making. I am here to help students connect those dots.”

Finding His Own Way

At NC A&T State University, Terrence took business classes and had big plans for a traditional career, but he felt disconnected from the poetry community he had grown so close to. He was no longer driven to learn and create. “It quickly became apparent that was not the right choice for me at the time,” he explains.

Terrence took a break from school to serve with AmeriCorps, volunteering in cities like Denver and New Orleans to rebuild homes, trails and communities. “I also worked with high school-age youth, acclimating them to service work. That moment was important on my journey to both teaching and spoken word,” Terrence says. “My mom [State Senator Valerie Foushee] has always been a servant leader, oriented toward helping people. My time with AmeriCorps helped me realize that, like my mom, I feel the most fulfilled when helping and providing service to others.” 

After two years with AmeriCorps, Terrence returned to North Carolina with a clear path in mind. “I knew the next step was: ‘How do I use my passion for service work in a career?’” He first attended Durham Technical Community College, then N.C. Central University as an English education major.

Sacrificial Poets

During that time, Terrence’s close friend CJ Suitt, who was appointed Chapel Hill’s first poet laureate in November 2019, also helped Terrence renew his creative edge. Back when the pair was in high school, CJ founded Sacrificial Poets, a spoken word poetry and hip-hop arts education nonprofit serving North Carolina youth, and encouraged Terrence to write his first poem that wasn’t a school assignment. 

“When I came back to North Carolina after AmeriCorps, CJ was hosting open mics and developing this community with some other friends and poets in the area, and I wanted to be part of it,” Terrence says. “I started writing again, and now and then would perform as well. As small as it was at that time, it was completely organic and one of the most beautiful things I had seen.” Prior to the pandemic, their events at Flyleaf Books drew upward of 100 people.

Reconnecting with the poetry community meant Terrence also had the opportunity to awaken his dormant skills, not only in writing, but in teaching the power words can have – a skill he also uses with his students. “The relationships I build with my students, and giving them the tools they need to process things, are the best thing about my job.”

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