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The Poetry Lounge

Poetry is a door to another dimension, a place where we feel more deeply, where we see the faces of others more closely and where we experience our humanity most fully. For those that experience or fight social injustice, poetry provides an outlet for powerful emotions and gives voice to our most stirring ideals. While the pervasiveness of injustice can leave one feeling overwhelmed or despondent, poetry ultimately provides a means of reclaiming one's agency, particularly when poetry is recited or created in a group setting. The Poetry Lounge is a special place where poetry fans and skeptics alike within an organization can gain strength and inspiration for defeating injustice.  


Poetry Lounge sessions last 2 hours and start with a general discussion on why and how poetry is used within activism and social change movements. This is followed by group discussion of a carefully curated set of poems illustrating themes and experiences of injustice that are relevant to the organization. The chemistry of this activity resides not only in the poems themselves but in the unique interpretations brought to them by various participants and the way in which these insights build off of each other. The discussion is then guided to a place where participants can reflect on the various responses to injustice the poems suggest. Finally, participants will undertake a short exercise of imitation poetry, allowing them to create an original poem inspired by an existing one.


Restorative sessions for organizations seeking racial justice.

Restorative sessions for organizations seeking social justice.

Restorative sessions for organizations seeking environmental justice.


There is a place the fear must go.

There is a place the choice must go.

There is a place the loss must go

— Alice Walker, How Poems are Made:

A Discredited Vie

Meet the Facilitators

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Malaika Cheney-Coker is the founder of Ignited Word, a company dedicated to giving organizations tools from language arts and organizational learning to harness their creativity. She is also an international development professional with 20 years of experience, the majority with CARE, a leading poverty-fighting and social justice organization. Along with extensive facilitation experience, her areas of specialization include organizational learning, monitoring and evaluation, research, communications, knowledge management and impact-at-scale approaches. She has variously worked in water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual and reproductive health and rights and housing sectors. Cheney-Coker has traveled to nearly forty countries and lived in five continents. She also writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction and has worked as a reporter for the Southwest Daily Times. She has a bachelors in English (Literature concentration) from Lebanon Valley College and a masters in International Affairs and Development from Clark Atlanta University.

Christine Ristaino, PhD  is a senior lecturer and teaches Italian classes at Emory University. She writes and publishes academic works, articles, essays, op-eds and non-fiction and presents her work in various forums throughout the U.S. and abroad. Ristaino has also published an award-winning memoir titled All the Silent Spaces, which was released in July of 2019 and confronts the topics of violence, identity and discrimination. In addition, Ristaino has published articles in the Guardian, Pacific Standard, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on child advocacy, coping with violence and topics around diversity. Ristaino serves on various boards and committees and participates in efforts around social justice, race, class, education reform and violence prevention. She has experience organizing powerful symposiums, seminars, conferences and events. She leads workshops on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics and creating a public voice.

"Malaika and Christine thoughtfully facilitate an invigorating space for conversation, reflection, and creativity, which allowed me to connect with members of my organization in a new way.  The Poetry Lounge was the most soul-filling time I've spent on Zoom, and I left feeling inspired and energized to continue our work in fighting for justice."

—Julianna Joss

"​I felt rage after reading [that] poem. But after the [imitation poetry] exercise I was able to let the rage go."

—Workshop Participant

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