This story is featured in the Spring 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine, headed soon to a mailbox near you.
Douglas McCollum understands the power of words.
He’s a freshman at High Point University, but he’s wise well beyond his years.
McCollum is a High Point native and one of more than a dozen Bonner Leaders at HPU. That means every year, he and the other 28 Bonners on campus each contribute 300 hours of volunteer service at a community organization.
McCollum spends most of his time at the Community Writing Center, just a few blocks from HPU. He wears a lot of hats there.
He’s the homework tutor, who helps children with their multiplication tables.
The team coach, who ensures everyone has a fun time during recess.
The poet, who brings out their creativity and imagination.
The mentor, who provides a listening ear and an encouraging word.
But above all, he’s the community builder.
Finding Purpose in Poetry
Growing up in the city of High Point, just a stone’s throw away from HPU, McCollum always had a knack for poetry. He worked for years with the Poetry Project in Greensboro, North Carolina — an initiative that teaches, inspires and creates a safe space for youth to express themselves through poetry.
Now, he’s a First Generation and Say Yes Scholar at HPU. The Guilford County-based scholarships allow him to dream big and be the first in his family to go to college.
Through the Poetry Project and his own experiences, McCollum has learned that words have the power to create meaningful change. That’s his goal not only for the children at the writing center, but for his life in general: Make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
“Using poetry, I teach the kids how to be better writers and presenters,” says McCollum, a communication major. “But it’s more than just getting in front of an audience and talking. Concrete, head knowledge is great, but they need social skills too. It’s about making sure they know how to communicate.”
To teach them those skills, McCollum leads writing and poetry workshops at the CWC. He gives them a prompt to get started: If you were a super hero, what would your power be?
He teaches the children how similes and metaphors can add depth to their work. Then McCollum works one-on-one with them to revise until their piece is finished.
“Douglas brings his infectious passion for poetry to the Community Writing Center,” says Dr. Charmaine Cadeau, assistant professor of English and CWC co-director. “As a member of the Poetry Project, Douglas uses his knowledge of creative writing to inspire the artistic and intellectual development of the children at the center.”
‘This is Home’
But McCollum envisions his work going beyond that singular writing session. He wants to teach other Bonners and community members how to lead these workshops, so everyone can get involved too.
“To be able to bridge a gap between communities in High Point is important for me,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that we can always build, we can always grow. And the first step to building a strong community is to start a conversation. After that, you go out and do the work.”
That work and those conversations can be tough at times.
McCollum knows that. But he believes it’s his duty to invest in his city and help it reach its potential.
“You see the Bonner leaders working in the community gardens. You see students helping children in the neighborhood through the STEM program, or with their English, or with poetry,” he says. “This type of work isn’t easy, yet it’s necessary.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on around you in your community. But the Bonner program is a great opportunity to get out there and serve. I’ve always said if I ever make it big and become rich and famous, that I would always come back because this is home. And my home needs to be taken care of.”