Akron’s immigrant community has found its voice.

And it took poetry to help find the words that bind cultures and ethnicities together.

With some help from the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and funds from the Knight Foundation, Kent State students and alumni spent months and countless sessions meeting with some of Akron’s newest citizens to create a community dialogue through poetry.

The result is the Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders exhibit, on display through Feb. 17 at Summit Artspace on East Market Street in downtown Akron.

Through some technical wizardry thanks to Kent State Visual Communication Design students and alumni along with Kent-based design studio Each + Every, many of the poems come to life to spur further discussion about the common threads that bind us all together, particularly in these troubled times when immigration is a hot button in Washington.

The exhibit includes an area where visitors can see and hear some of the participants talking about their personal journeys and what inspired their words.

From an older man talking about his inspirational mother, to a young child describing in rhyme his love of exploring the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, visitors can tap a computer screen to select which poem and story they would like to hear.

One particularly poignant episode tells the inspiring, yet heart-tugging story of a young patient in expressive therapy at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Dorian Utt wrote a poem about his therapy stuffed animal — a superhero named D-Dude. Dorian tells how D-Dude has superpowers of positive reinforcement that help him walk strong against villains who try to break his spirit or create slippery floors.

As Dorian reads his poem, the video fades to another scene of the child struggling to walk as his family helps support his arms.

Another area of the exhibit features posters created by Kent State students from the words and thoughts expressed by the new poets.

David Hassler, director of the Wick Center, said many of the participants were not comfortable talking about their personal lives at first, and some of the more recent immigrants struggled to piece together words in English.

But as the sessions progressed — eventually numbering more than 200 — in various settings from schools to social agencies to hospitals, Hassler said, these language barriers were broken through poetry.

An unexpected surprise, he said, was a noted growth in the proficiency among English-as-a-second-language students. “The universal language of poetry has been a way to connect people,” Hassler said.

At the heart of the free exhibit on the first floor of the Summit Artspace is an area to engage others in the dialogue.

Visitors are encouraged to sit at a table and contribute to an evolving community poem about Akron. They are asked to write a sentence or two to add to the piece, simply titled “Akron is,” and the poem evolves as more and more guests add to it.

Another station helps those with writer’s block to gather their thoughts and words to create a new, unique poem.

A series of iPads allow visitors to select from four Akron-centric works, from a piece about LeBron James to an essay about Rita Dove.

Using a technique called black-out poetry, the visitor reads a page from the selected work, then clicks on words that jump out. They can then slowly fade the other words on the page to reveal the work of poetry composed of the words they selected.

“There’s no anxiety over a blank page,” Hassler said.

Two postcard copies of the new work can be printed out. An area with colorful pens and crayons and paper allows visitors to embellish one of the printed copies and attach it to a large board for others to read.

The other copy is a souvenir to take home or mail to someone.

“We hope visitors come and learn and feel inspired to share their own voice,” Hassler said. “You enter in here and engage in a conversation through poetry.”

The next stop for the exhibit will be in Tampa, Fla. for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. It will then spend nine weeks this summer at the Chautauqua Institute in New York. Other stops are being lined up after that.

What’s unique about the exhibit, Hassler said, is the interactive components like the community poem and the black-out poetry can easily be changed to reflect the city or region where it is being displayed.

In the end, Hassler said, the exhibit is about finding common ground and creating a dialogue and understanding.

“We hope this will be a trigger for a larger national conversation of how we welcome people.”

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3574.