iconoclast artists crosses borders

Houston Program Director, Marlon Lizama, teaches Iconoclast's writing curriculum to students in the Dominican Republic while traveling with his dance crew, Havikoro.

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Working with kids in a DREAM Project school, Marlon discovers that his Dominican students share the same struggles as his students in Houston, Texas.

 Havikoro members: Yung Chris Thomas, Rick Camacho, Marley Lizama, and Anthony "Beast Boogie" Silva

Havikoro members: Yung Chris Thomas, Rick Camacho, Marley Lizama, and Anthony "Beast Boogie" Silva

A Brief History

Twenty years ago, a group of young street dancers from historically underserved neighborhoods in Houston formed Havikoro, a dance crew that rose to success performing and competing internationally. Today, Havikoro has become a worldwide cultural outreach program that shares a positive message through breakdancing and Hip Hop culture.

Like many members of Havikoro, Marlon Lizama has evolved into a multi-faceted artist, becoming a successful writer, performer, and teacher.  

Iconoclast Artists is Born

In 2014, Marlon partnered with Dr. Matthew Russell in Houston, Texas to co-found Iconoclast Artists, a free in-school creative writing and performance arts program that creates equitable access for thousands of underserved youth, through events and weekly classroom instruction in over 15 schools and juvenile correctional facilities throughout Houston and Galveston.

This summer, the US State Department invited Havikoro, through an American cultural outreach initiative, to visit the Dominican Republic. Marlon jumped on this opportunity to secure permission to teach Iconoclast’s writing program for one week to Dominican students in a DREAM Project school.

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The DREAM Project helps over 8,200 children, youth, and young adults access a better education through 14 programs in 27 different communities within the Dominican Republic.  The programs create a better future for the youth and their families through high quality education, youth development, and community enrichment.

Because illiteracy is the biggest educational problem in the Dominican Republic, Marlon was aware of the challenges but also the necessity for writing instruction. It was an opportunity he could not pass up.

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Nothing Lost in Translation

At first, Marlon was unsure about how the poetry curriculum would translate in another country, but as he began to hear the kids’ personal stories, he recognized many similarities between the Dominican students and his students in Houston. 

The kids had the same fears, uncertainties and obstacles to success, much like their Texas counterparts, from poverty to broken homes.  But they also showed resilience and hope for their futures.  

Because of these similarities, Marlon was not surprised that the Dominican students quickly embraced the curriculum and were eager to tell their own stories through their poetry.

Using his signature comedic Spanglish approach, Marlon established the young writers’ trust by sharing his own work as well as pieces from Iconoclast poets in Texas.  In turn, the Dominican students educated Marlon on their own dialect and slang. 

The kids sat in circles and talked about themselves, their culture, their communities and their country. They opened their hearts, shared their work, and supported one another.

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As the week progressed, so did the poetry and more than a few gifted performers emerged. At the outset, Marlon provided blueprints for their first few poems and then he watched them take flight within the brave new space that they had created together.  (See gallery for more photos)

Looking Ahead

The success of this week-long program and the poetry that emerged has inspired Iconoclast Artists to publish an all-Spanish anthology this year, featuring poems from the Dominican students printed alongside the Texans’ work.

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Iconoclast Artists also plans to raise enough funds to sponsor a student from the DREAM Project to travel to the US and perform his or her work at Iconoclast's annual book release celebration in Houston, Texas this spring. (Click here to contribute!)

For Iconoclast Artists, this trip does not represent a one-time success story, but the birth of Iconoclast’s international partnership initiative, supporting and connecting young people around the world.  

Sharing how the Dominican students inspired him to keep pushing forward, Marlon reflects, “I always say that art can change the world, and I truly believe it. No matter the country, young people will always be curious and will want to tell their stories. We can’t ever stop reaching out beyond barriers and borders to lift the young voices that need to be heard. I’m so proud of Iconoclast Artists; it's a powerful tool that knows no boundaries. It can cross an ocean and change kids’ lives. And that’s beautiful.”

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Click here to purchase Iconoclast's poetry anthologies: They Say Vols 1, 2, & 3
Proceeds from book sales support the Iconoclast Artists scholarship fund.