St. Paul's parishioner a poet, rapper, mentor to kids

by Len Lear
Posted 6/2/21

Andre Saunders is the Writers Matter Poet-in-Residence at LaSalle University. For three years he has been going to public schools every week (remote visits for the past year) and mentoring students there, encouraging them to express their emotions and thoughts in print.

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St. Paul's parishioner a poet, rapper, mentor to kids

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The Rev. Daniel Kline, Associate Rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, contacted me recently to say, “I’m reaching out to see if you might be interested in interviewing my friend, Andre Saunders. Andre grew up in our church and is now the Writers Matter’s Poet-in-Residence at LaSalle University. He helps teach poetry and songwriting to young people across Philadelphia, which has its own unique set of challenges with all of the changes to education format during the pandemic. I don’t know if you’re looking for stories, but figured I’d pass his name along!”

Yes; we are always looking for local up-and-comers like Saunders to highlight. A Mt. Airy resident, the St. Paul's parishioner since he was 13 (when asked his age, he said he'd like to “keep it a mystery”) who also works part-time at the church has been involved in community service projects for years. For three years he has been going to public schools every week (remote visits for the past year) and mentoring students there, encouraging them to express their emotions and thoughts in print.

“Each individual school gets a unique program designed by myself and my partner, DJ Will,” said Saunders, who attended Roman Catholic High School and Howard University. “Our programs usually start with a brief introduction/warm-up to get students engaged. We bring along special guests to each school, whether an entertainer, designer, dancer etc. We gauge how active students are, which allows us to determine how we roll out the activities for the day...

“We allow willing students to come on stage and present and perform their writing. I along with our special guest present our material. We engage in group discussions with students to allow them to share whatever is on their minds and what has influenced them ... We encourage them to continue to work hard inside and outside of school.

“We like to end programs with a segment we like to call 'Party Time,' where our resident DJ, DJ Will, gets to play their favorite songs, allowing them to dance and enjoy themselves after a successful program. Lastly, we pass out materials and special gifts to students … and take group pics. The entire experience is something you have to be present for in order to truly understand the significance. We can tell you, or you can read about it, but it doesn't do justice to the impact and how it resonates with students.”

Saunders is also a rap musician and poet who has been recognized by Black Entertainment Network (BET), a cable TV network, for his accomplishments. And he was presented with an official Philadelphia City Council citation for his work. He has recorded two albums, “Moments,” in 2017 and “Honest” in 2019, and he has a third, “Unexpected,” that will be released soon. His music has been played on five local radio stations, and he has performed with prominent rappers like Rakim, Donell Jones, Asia Sparks and Ms. Jade and at numerous festivals in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware and with poet Sonia Sanchez at Arcadia University, among others.

When asked about the best advice he had ever received, Saunders said, “It's to be true to who I am and trust my intuition. I’ve been through so many dark times; some I’ve shared, and some I haven’t. From those that I’ve shared, I’d say being a kid and visiting my mom while she was incarcerated and dealing with the death of my friend, Zakkiyah.”

When asked what people have influenced him the most, Saunders replied, “It’s always three people I mention when asked this question. My mother, my grandmother and my uncle. Each for their own reasons. My mother loves me unconditionally. I am perfect in her eyes. I always want to make her proud. I remember a story she told me about when she was pregnant with me and her conversation with the doctor about how she knew I was special. My uncle because he has shown me so much in life and again that unconditional love. All the great things about me are a reflection of them. I know that whether I win or lose, they’ll always love me the same and continue to support me.”

More information at writersmatter.org/poet-in-residence, or you can check Andre out on YouTube, Twitter or Instagram, @andres_1220. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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