Photo courtesy of Angela Aguirre.
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“I knew this was something,” said feminist artist, author, teacher and performer Angela Aguirre. “I didn’t know what it was gonna be but … I surprised myself because the only time I’m confident is when I’m doing a poem or speaking some type of message like that or being empowering towards other people but in my regular daily life, you know, I’m pretty insecure about a lot of things and so I think it gave me kind of this super power that I didn’t know I had.”

These were the words that describe Aguirre’s first time speaking as a featured poet for an audience of women at the 2014 YWCA of Pasadena’s Women for Racial Justice Breakfast. Before this, she was a seasoned performer who exercised her art of public speaking by performing poetry for audiences in Los Angeles. 

Since the day that she discovered her super power, Aguirre has accomplished much with the power of speech, such as hosting the Millenial Mija Podcast, supporting those affected by mental illness in educational classrooms for over 10 years and writing “Confessions of a Firework,” a book of poems and guided writing prompts for self-analysis and growth.

With a record like this, Aguirre was prepared to contribute her power and passion to PCC’s Resilience and Mutual Support Speaker Series provided by the CORE (Community Overcoming Recidivism through Education) club, which began on May 7 with Aguirre’s guided workshop.

PCC’s CORE Program provides support services to guide students into successfully re-entering in their communities through academic success and job skill development. CORE stated the purpose of the Resilience and Mutual Support Speaker Series in its Instagram post

“Though we are physically separated, we remain together in purpose.” 

Students who identify as being affected by incarceration and are enrolled in at least three units benefit from CORE by means of academic tutoring, student-peer mentoring, and expungement workshops.

Additional services include assistance in job readiness and community resources. The unique challenges that come to those affected by incarceration continue to be addressed even through quarantine.

CORE shows their commitment to their purpose in following weeks by means of the Resilience and Mutual Support Speaker Series where all are invited to tune in to virtual workshops.

Each workshop speaker presents their own purpose for the workshop, but the common theme includes expression, support and triumphing personal barriers. 

The speaker series includes four guest speakers who host workshops to encourage support, share their own experiences and provide hope and community. The workshops are open to all, but are especially beneficial to those overcoming unique circumstances that impact one’s mental health and those affected by incarceration.

On May 7, Angela Aguirre was guest speaker for the meeting and workshop, “Turning Pain into Power,” for all interested attendees through a video conference. Aguirre opened up with a welcoming introduction and began the workshop by inviting attendees to take a moment to process how they are affected by the quarantine. Attendees made a list of what the pandemic had taken away and what it had given. 

The quarantine is a first time experience on a global scale and the list exercise helped attendees take a moment to define what it meant for them individually. Having this moment facilitated the process of gaining perspective and balance of its impact. Everyone is struggling but everyone’s struggle is unique.

For example, one may share that the virus had taken their job away but provided the opportunity to be closer to their loved ones. Aguirre led the workshop and all attendees were invited to voice their anxieties and experiences.

Aguirre was first introduced to CORE through Dr. César A. Cruz, creator and co-founder of Homies Empowerment in Oakland, CA. Cruz invited her to perform at an event for PCC CORE. She took the opportunity to share a poem and after that, CORE continued to reach out to Aguirre for various events, including the Black and Brown Unity Event in collaboration with Ujima. 

Aguirre’s first formal speaking gig was at the YWCA of Pasadena at the Women for Racial Justice Breakfast.  She had such a response that the YWCA invited her to return for two more years. She continued to speak and sell her book “Confessions of a Firework.” Although this wasn’t the first time she practiced public speaking, it was her first time performing before an audience of only women—an experience that changed the game and unearthed the discovery of her “super power.”

“I didn’t realize that I had the same kind of ability to move people the way that my dad did when I was younger,” said Aguirre. “I never really thought that I also had that same thing that I admired in him.”

Performing in a room full of women for the first time at the YWCA Women for Racial Justice Breakfast was a game changer. It gave her a “kind of freedom” she hadn’t yet experienced being behind a microphone in a huge room in front of an audience of hundreds.

Prior to the Racial Justice Breakfast, Aguirre really only experienced performing before large audiences at Da Poetry Lounge in front of an audience of both men and women around her age. With this came the internal pressure and external insecurities of all performers regarding audience reception, performance image and delivering the weight of one’s message successfully. 

However, these fears evolved into a strength when standing before an audience of women who were responding in turn to a woman with the weight of life experience, sincerity and passion. 

“I saw that my words could empower other people,” said Aguirre.

Recognizing her power did not eradicate the current insecurities, however. It takes her two or three hours to prepare. She compares her tactical preparation to how she approached teaching poetry to children. Food is a huge motivator for them, so Aguirre would provide many snacks to capture the children’s attention. Doing so facilitated the teaching process since the children were given an incentive. Preparing her hair and make-up served the same strategic purpose. 

“I can use my voice the way it was intended to be used and let it be powerful without shaking or being worried about all that other stuff that I can’t really control or at least I try to control,” said Aguirre. “But what really wins the battle is the mind.”

Aguirre is also an advocate in mental wellness and openly shares how her life was affected once she stopped taking medication. She developed a sensitivity and appreciation for life lessons she was learning from movies, books and other media, which helped her grow. These lessons became valuable gems worth preserving and as a poet, writing was her main way to record her thoughts. She does so with an analytical approach influenced by her practice of poetry. Having developed a talent for syntax and prosody made sure that her spoken art was automatic and fluid.

The story behind Millennial Mija is a manifestation of Aguirre’s resilience. When she stopped taking medication after nearly 12 years, she had developed a difficulty with writing and reading. Even reading an email was challenging, so she began creating voice notes on her phone.

A student of hers was knowledgeable about sound engineering and wanted to help turn her voice notes into a podcast. She already had a microphone, so with a little effort, it was started.

“You have to be brave in order to find your gifts,” said Aguirre. 

She continues to put herself out there and remind women and youth that they, too, can discover their super power and believe in themselves and their voice.

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