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Kirk Latimer


Speaking Out Loud (SOuL)

10007 Wildwood Dr.
Richland, Michigan 49083
Kirk Latimer believes healing happens when youth tell the story of their struggles to a live audience. As educational director of Speak it Forward, Inc., based in Kalamazoo, Latimer teaches teens to find and express their voice through the spoken word arts.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Speak It Forward Educational Director Kirk Latimer: Being a leader means taking responsibility for your own actions. Far too often, we say we want to impact others but because a part of us is unsettled with ourselves, we can never truly have that impact on others until we own our TRUE selves. A leader is not someone who is fearless to lead, it is someone who can be strong in his or her vulnerability. To be able to embrace the passion of the moment without letting it become the need for control. For me, being a leader means being able to see our scars as beauty marks and empowering all those around me by helping others embrace every part of their true selves so they too can function better and more authentically in their environments.
What is your dream for kids?
Kids need to be able to be playful as they grow into an awareness of who they are and what they can and cannot control as they grow up. I want the kids who have it hard to know that it is through struggle that we become strong. I want the kids who have been abandoned to know that it is those who lose everything that most know what it means to appreciate what they have. I want kids who have been born into drugs and addiction to know they are not alone. They are not a blight on society. They are merely a reflection of the struggles we all go through, they just may not have the luxury of hiding it as others might do.
Our life long plan is to create a type of “Interlochen for the Broken,” where the most passionately misdirected can come for years of their life to find the true power that lies within and help direct that power in such a way as to help transform not only
Our life long plan is to create a type of
their own lives, but the lives of others, and this world as a whole.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Passion needs to be re-injected into the work we are doing. And this passion needs to guide us toward unified outcomes, outcomes that we intimately believe in. I believe that far too often we are caught up in the process. Instead of actually accomplishing the things we say we want to, we get caught up in talking about it. And don’t get me wrong, talking is important. But if we don’t collectively begin to walk away from the same table with a deeper appreciation for the unification of our cause and how we can align our strengths so as to create real and sustainable change, we will continue to be disheartened.
To say it blatantly, we need to BE the change we wish to see in the world and in our communities. If we don’t own and live and breathe what it is we SAY we want, then we will never grow the work we do. Sometimes you have to leap without looking because you know that the “leaping” itself is more important than knowing how deep the water is.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We have very specific tools in place to measure three to five quantifiable outcomes that indicates that our work, facilitations and art, are having the impact that we are expecting. But as we all know, these are human constructs. And though we may be an intelligent species, these structures we’ve created are made up. What makes them work is only our belief in them. So I have extended my understanding of how I know “what’s working” to also be something that is a part of my gut, my intuition and by watching the ripples we create gain momentum and turn into large waves along the shore of community transformation.
We know we are making progress by the thousands of letters we receive about how our work has changed lives and impacted those around us more than we could even imagine or intend. And the beauty of this kind of feedback is that we DON’T expect it. Just like a real intimate relationship, you don’t aim to change another person; you simply believe so much in how you feel and in what you are doing that change becomes a part of the natural process of growing closer. This is what we do. We make such deep and true lasting connections that the impact is not only measurable in assessment tools. It is even more accurately felt in the heart and in the numerous hugs we receive, or in the tears of letting go, or the harrowing stories of survival that come pouring out from unsuspecting mouths.
What are you most proud of?
That along this journey, I have shuffled off my façade so that I could find my authentic voice of leadership and my authentic self, in general. I am most proud that the work we do on a daily basis also changes me personally and directly each and every moment. When a student shows me the scars of his past and is able to heal them on the spot, in front of an audience, with me by his side, he also heals his audience, and me. I am most proud of the fact that I take each of these experiences as a blessing meant to move me further in the direction of my dreams.
When a student shows me the scars of his past and is able to heal them on the spot, in front of an audience, with me by his side, he also heals his audience, and me.
Sure, we’ve been to the Apollo, been on America’s Got Talent and beat hundreds of thousands of acts. Sure, we’ve had thousands of people give us standing ovations over and over again across the nation. We’ve had youth from every corner of these communities send us e-mails that said we saved their lives, we kept them in school, we gave them hope that wasn’t there before. Sure, all these things could be points of pride. But what really matters is that I know I still need work. And each of these opportunities is just one more step along my path to become a better, a more real and more moved man.
What originally drew you to your current profession?
That’s a long of a story, and as a matter of fact it IS what I do for a living—tell the story of how I got to where I am. When you go through enough abuse, violence and loss, you learn how to build walls and keep people away from you so you don’t ever have to hurt again. So you think. But eventually, all walls must fall. And the larger the wall, the more it takes to knock it down. And the harder it hurts when it does.
When my wall fell, I had come to realize just how desperate and lost I truly was. It was through this desperation that I realized all of us have our walls and our need to break them down. I am driven by my passion for healing myself so much that I invite others to heal with me through the art of the spoken word and through the development of strong and genuine relationships with others.
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Program Profile


  • Speak It Forward
    Uplift youth and adults who have been silenced by helping them find and powerfully express their voice.


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