Throughout history, poetry and justice have gone hand in hand. From the classics of Maya Angelou to the 2021 inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman, the convergence of poetry, social justice and activism transcends time across generations. Today, Gen Z is leading the way.
Harnessing the power of creative expression, 14-year-old Isabella Hanson created the national ‘I Matter’ poetry competition in 2020 to provide a vehicle for young voices wishing to amplify awareness of racial injustices and civil unrest in the states. United Honoring Black Lives Matter and powered by Gucci, the contest for K-12 students drew participation from 26 states last year. The best poems and artwork have been turned into a compilation book honoring the lives of black people killed in 2020, and can be downloaded here.
Skilled in prose and verse, the featured writers have written poems tackling issues such as contest winner, Khabria Fisher-Dunbar’s ‘Hey Google’, which challenges 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 speaks of 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 the footage of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” Hanson says. “I just thought if I used poetry then maybe other kids would like it. I know how difficult it is to feel unable to express your feelings on difficult subjects. Thanks to a scholarship from Gucci, I created the “I Matter” poetry contest to give this chance to students my age. »
In no time, Hanson was able to gain the support of personalities such as NBA player Rob Covington of the Houston Rockets, and the competition’s three celebrity judges who selected the eventual winner. They include comedian Torrei Hart, hip hop icon Kool Moe Dee and singer Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George.
The first ‘I Matter’ project followed Hanson’s June 19, 2020 celebration, which she organized to bring racial healing to the community of historic Fussell House – a site that helped more than 2,000 slaves to freedom. This year’s competition, which launched in January, is accepting poetry and art submissions from students until July 23, 2021.
Hanson’s poetry contest caught the attention of “Inside Edition,” which put her alongside Amanda Gorman, who Hanson says “gives her so much hope.”
Hanson’s debut in poetry writing at the age of 11 was inspired by Dominican-American poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo, author of the New York Times bestseller, “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 told her rats weren’t enough. noble for a poem,” Hanons shares. “Poetry is really just a peaceful way to address issues that you think need to be brought out into the open. That’s definitely why I use it. So after attending this event, I decided to become a poet.
Hanson would like the “I Matter” competition to continue for a few more years and plans to study commerce in the future.
“I really like running things, and I know a lot of black women haven’t run businesses,” she says. “So I want to try and increase that percentage. I’ll probably minor in poetry in college, and maybe I’ll keep writing, but I’ll focus on business.