When Douglas McCollum was a freshman at High Point Central High School, he learned first-hand the kind of empowerment that sharing your voice on stage can offer. When he started writing poetry and eventually joined the Greensboro-based slam poetry team, Gate City Youth Slam, Douglas began traveling around the country performing spoken word poems that he had written.
“As a poet, the analogy that I like to give is that often you are cutting yourself open and putting it on paper,” Douglas explains, reflecting back on his first experiences with poetry. “Then you watch that paper fill up with blood and guts and all kinds of disgusting stuff that a lot of people would not normally see from you, but it is the inside of yourself... The healing process was getting up on stage and watching myself kind of scab over again.”
It was also in his time in high school that Douglas was first introduced to the Poetry Project, a program that started to give students and teens an outlet for self-expression. And while Douglas admits that in his beginning years as a poet, he thought the talent he possessed might bring him fame and riches, his maturity led him to see that there was something else valuable he could do with his skills as a writer and performer: empower others.
Douglas graduated from High Point Central, and went on to attend High Point University on a first-generation student scholarship. He also joined the Bonner Leader Program at HPU, and was immediately intrigued by the site placement at the Washington Street Community Writing Center, housed at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
His placement at the writing center ended up being the perfect fit. At that time, the Community Writing Center was operating out of the church, providing different programs for 3rd through 8th graders to help them with writing, education, and discovering their voices. Faculty directors from HPU, Dr. Cara Kozma (Associate Professor of English, Assistant Director of Service Learning) and Dr. Charmaine Cadeau (Associate Professor of English), oversaw the Bonner Leaders to make sure they were serving the student needs well. And Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas, pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, made sure the space was available to support the needs of the church, students, and the community. Additionally, partnerships with schools like Penn Griffin Middle School and Kirkman Park Elementary School partnered with the writing center.
To Douglas’ surprise, the writing center even had a branch of the Poetry Project. And each year, students who participated at the writing center would compile interviews they conducted and stories they had written into one volume, Voices on Washington Street, to be distributed throughout the community.
The overlap was perfect for Douglas, and, having grown up in the High Point community, he found the writing center to be a little piece of home.
“When I'm in the community, it felt more like home...” Douglas explains. As a strategic communications major at HPU, Douglas was grateful for his education and time at HPU, but knew upon graduating he didn’t want his time in the writing center to end. So at the end of his time at HPU, he enrolled in the AmeriCorp VISTA program to continue working at the writing center.
But in his time as a VISTA, Douglas, alongside Dr. Thomas, Dr. Cadeau, and Dr. Kozma, and Dr. Lynne Murray (Instructor of English at HPU), all saw that the writing center was just one small part of a bigger impact the organizations and its volunteers could have in the Washington Street community.
So Mega Mission Ministries (or M3) was born. Borrowing from Mt. Zion’s mission statement: “a small church, a mega mission,” M3 was born out of a desire to see all ages from kindergartners through senior adults supported in their efforts to express themselves through the written word and artistic means.
And the board at M3 could think of no one better to offer the inaugural Program Director position to than Douglas himself.
"There is this blank canvas to play with and to go from," Douglas explains. “We have this foundation of the community writing center, and now we're building around and expanding upon those connections.”
The first way Douglas saw M3 expanding on the work of the writing center, was to expand the program offerings to show students that whether they gravitate towards written word, spoken words, visual arts, music, graphic design, fashion, or some other creative outlet – their voice matters and needs to be heard.
“The Poetry Program is an organization that teaches students that what they have to say is important beyond the classroom,” Douglas explains. “We're not just writing to write an essay, but we're writing to hear what you have to, to hear what your story is.”
And Douglas knows that stories come in a variety of shapes, forms, and media. The Poetry Project has since expanded at M3 to be an all-inclusive community event, which was first expanded through the M3 “Passion Show.” The program, created by Natalie Lucas, another HPU VISTA, was a fashion show that allowed students to create ensembles that showcased their passions and personalities through creativity. That, alongside some musical performances and spoken word performances, began to show students that their creative ideas matter.
“Providing a space for children to come out of their shells and learn what it means to perform on stage, listen to applause, and to know what that feels like – that provides a foundation for whatever they go into,” Douglas says.
“How do you bring that expression into the classroom?” he encourages his students to answer. He knows that eventually, these students will be asked to write college essays, cover letters, and more, and their voices will be an important part of becoming strong communicators and confident individuals.
The second expansion that Douglas and the M3 board want to bring to the organization is the inclusion of an even wider range of community members. While the writing center has traditionally served 3rd through 8th graders, the aim is to begin including programming for high school students, young elementary schoolers, and even older adults.
“Working at the writing center for the last four years, I've seen a lot of young faces come through. I've seen a lot of young people grow into older folks,” Douglas reflects. But his desire is for those older students not to move on, but to return as leaders, to take ownership of the M3 programs and inspire the students coming up behind them to use their voices as well. Even when it comes to younger and older adults in the community, the Board sees plenty of opportunity for growth when it comes to learning your voice and how to communicate.
Lastly, Douglas and the M3 board want the organization to be a true support for the community and to engage real involvement from local parents. While the organization is serving students, they want to encourage the parents to take an active, engaged role in the programs of M3.
“Providing a space for children to come out of their shells and learn what it means to perform on stage, listen to applause, and to know what that feels like – that provides a foundation for whatever they go into."
Douglas McCollum, Program Director of Mega Mission Ministries
“It's important and imperative for here to be that continuous conversation between community and community partners,” Douglas says. “Because at the end of the day, our mission isn't to serve ourselves or make ourselves feel good... Our mission is to listen to and take from what the community is giving us, and then to give back what it is that they ask for.”
He notes that even studying statistics and data doesn’t compare to conversations with real people in the community. Statistics may answer what challenges are facing students, but they don’t always answer the why. Only though real relationship building can systemic why’s be identified. After all, Douglas notes that without the kids, without the community, there aren’t any voices to elevate.
"We don’t have a community writing center or a Mega Mission Ministries without the foundation of the community and the children," he says. “The stars of what we do is and always will be the community that we work with.”
Today, M3 has programs that run Tuesday-Thursdays, with a goal to have programming at the writing center every day. Longterm, Douglas hopes other Bonner Leaders and VISTAs take ownership of the program and decide to stay in High Point to continue serving the community.
“There's always going to be for me a want to serve and give to High Point,” Douglas says about his hometown. He says regardless of if someone plans to take their talents to earn a living they invest back in their community, or stick around to do the grassroots work themselves, serving your city is always worthwhile. And he counts himself fortunate to be in the position of using his talents to serve the students and families at M3.
Today, Douglas doesn’t find himself in the spotlight as much anymore (although he enjoys performing at the M3 shows to encourage his students). Instead, poetry and writing today serves as a marker for the pivotal moments in his own story, and the spotlight for where he should go next.
“At this point in my life, writing is like a measurement tool to see what progress has been made, and then to see what all I can do next,” he says.
And what’s next for Mega Mission Ministries, is a story we can’t wait to see unfold.
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team