How this black teen poetry competition rallies young people across the United States to use their voices for social justice

Throughout history, poetry and justice have gone hand in hand. From the classics of Maya Angelou to the inaugural 2021 poem by Amanda Gorman, the convergence of poetry, social justice and activism transcends time across generations. Today, Generation Z is leading the way.

Harnessing the power of creative expression, Isabella Hanson, 14, created the national ‘I Matter’ poetry competition in 2020 to provide a vehicle for young voices who wish to amplify awareness of racial injustices and civil unrest in the United States. United. Honoring Black Lives Matter and powered by Gucci, the contest for K-12 classes drew participation from 26 states last year. The best poems and artwork has been turned into a compilation book honoring the lives of black people slain in 2020, and can be downloaded here.

Skilled in prose and verse, the star writers have written poems on issues such as the contest winner, “Hey Google” by Khabria Fisher-Dunbar, which questions Google’s portrayal of black people, “I CAN’T BREATHE “by Sanai R. Eaton-Martinez, which delves into the impact of George Floyd’s death on black youth, an untitled poem by Charity Fisher, which talks about her struggle as a young black girl,” My Skin is My Shield ”by Ashlyn Poppe, which explores white privilege, and many more.

“I use poetry as an outlet to express myself, and especially after watching all of the footage of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” says Hanson. “I just thought, if I use poetry, then maybe other kids will like it. I know how hard it is to feel like you can’t express your feelings on difficult matters. Thanks to a grant from Gucci, I created the “I Matter” poetry competition to give this chance to students my age. ”

In no time, Hanson was able to garner the support of NBA player Rob Covington of the Houston Rockets, and the three famous judges of the competition who selected the final winner. Among them are actress Torrei Hart, hip-hop icon Kool Moe Dee and singer Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George.

The first “I Matter” project followed Hanson’s June 10, 2020 celebration, which she hosted to bring racial healing to the community at historic Fussell House – a site that helped more than 2,000 slaves access to freedom. This year’s competition, launched in January, is accepting student poetry and art submissions until July 23, 2021.

Hanson’s poetry competition caught the attention of “Inside Edition”, which put her alongside Amanda Gorman, who Hanson said “gives her so much hope.”

Hanson’s early days of writing poetry at age 11 were inspired by Dominican-American poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo, author of New York Times bestselling “The Poet X,” “With the Fire on High “and” Clap When You Land.

“I met Elizabeth at an event and remember she wrote a poem called ‘A Rat Ode’ dedicated to a teacher she once had who said her rats weren’t enough. noble for a poem, ”shares Hanons. “Poetry is really just a peaceful way to respond to issues that you think need to be brought to light. That’s definitely what I use it for. So after attending this event, I decided to become a poet.

Hanson would like to maintain the “I Matter” competition for a few more years and intends to study business in the future.

“I really like to run things, and I know a lot of black women haven’t run a business,” she says. “So I want to try to increase that percentage. I’ll probably do a minor in poetry in college, and maybe I’ll continue writing, but I’ll focus on business.

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