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Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County

Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County 2021-22
Danielle Obisie-Orlu

Danielle Obisie-Orlu is Nigerian-American student, actress and poet who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a trained public speaker, receiving accolades in speech, drama, and debate. She attends the University of Pittsburgh and is double majoring in International & Area Studies and Political Science, with minors in Sociology and French. She is devoted to fostering environments of intersectional community, belonging, and empowerment. She is passionate about migration, belonging, and international human rights law; partners with ARSYE to empower migrant youth and refugee voices; and is a student leader on her campus.

Poem for the Expat
by Danielle Obisie-Orlu

my dearest, heart,

I hope you have found your home.
I hope the breeze from the East brushes gently across your cheek
As you rest in the sun-kissed South.

my dearest, heart,

I hope you feel as though you belong.
I hope your carnivorous mind
Hasn’t stopped telling them to eat their hearts out
When they tell you to pick:

“Pick a Language. A Country. A Name. An Identity.”

A Dream
for the future.

A Place
to call home.

my dearest, heart,

I hope you know that your identity is yours
And no one can strip it away.
You might feel lost to every culture you have touched,
But I promise when you gaze within yourself
You will find an imprint of their footsteps.

my dearest, heart,

You do not need to ask permission
To see yourself as more than the sum of your parts.
You are not an outcast.
You are the embodiment of change.

Events featuring our Youth Poets

  • Sept 29, 2021 – City of Asylum Jazz Poetry Concert ft. Danielle Obisie-Orlu (rewatch here)

Youth Poet Ambassadors of Allegheny County 2021-22

Ekow Opoku Dakwa

Ekow Opoku Dakwa is a 15 year old at Allderdice High School. He loves to read, write, program board games using Python, and participate in paratriathlons. Ekow loves chess and math and is the Pittsburgh City Champion for the 24 Challenge Game for his grade. He was a National Ambassador for the 2020 Do The Write Thing challenge; his essay on youth violence and how it might affect him as a person with a disability is published in the Library of Congress. His goal is to use writing and programming to create tools and resources for other people with disabilities. Ekow would like to study computer science and artificial intelligence in college.

They will know me
by Ekow Opoku Dakwa

First day of the school year-
New teachers
New students
New grade

I wonder…
How will they react when I open my laptop?
Or when I speak?
Or when I ask for help to cut a piece of paper?
Such simple tasks that are like mountains in my way

The thoughts run through my mind
What do they think-
As I look down and type away whilst they speak?
I don’t write with a pen
Because these hands don’t write what I ask them to
When I speak, do they really not understand?
Are they tagging me as lazy, incapable, unable?

What I do know is that at the end of the year they will know me
My talent, my skill, my passion my drive
Oh they will know me!
And they will know that this disability doesn’t define me

Aja Lynn

Aya Lynn is a 16 year Junior at Hampton High School. As an avid creative writer, she appreciates the freedom that poetry provides. She has had the honor to perform her poetry through the Fine Arts program at her church where she is a regular volunteer. She is also a member of her school’s Speech and Debate Team. Aja’s love of performing and writing can also be seen in her involvement in the Drama Club, the Musical, and the after school Writers Club. She hopes to share her love of poetry with fellow students and community members.

Mind and Hand, Pen to Paper
by Aja Lynn

I am not the things I write.
Nor the words that leave my mouth;
My actions and mistakes,
Are nearly indiscernible these days.

On these days, I will not
Regurgitate thoughts that are not mine,
In hoping that integrity
will always live here.

Hearing the difficult things
Never gets easier.
But today I will listen, and
Pay attention like I should have yesterday.

I have important things to write about,
But I am afraid they are not mine
To put words to, to say
It is a terrifyingly vulnerable thing.

Things are big and frightening,
But this world wants us to forget.
Regret has reinforced these walls for long enough,
And I refuse to leave it all to time.

Time will not become my excuse,
with words unloose on my tongue
My writing is not who I am,
But neither is this passivity

I am young, so then,
I still have time.
I’ll fight with my sword, and
Pick up the pen.

Phoenix Thomas

Phoenix Thomas is a 16-year-old rising junior at Westinghouse Arts Academy, where he studies writing. He is a member of his school’s Black Student Union which strives to elevate the Black voices and talents throughout the academy. With his writing, he aims to educate and help others heal. He prides himself on his activism for marginalized communities through participating in local actions for Black lives, volunteering, and writing. 

colors of wrath
by Phoenix Thomas

is there not bliss in anger
is it not beautiful
to be so enthralled by an emotion
that not even your body can handle the aftermath
isn’t it wonderful
how pain can mold you
into something that is almost unrecognizable
isn’t it amazing how tears of hurt can
dry faster than a pool of blood
so you think, “maybe the rage isn’t worth it,”
but my god, isn’t it beautiful?
how words can paint a picture
but rage can fill a museum
and you, my friend
have exhausted the space on your canvas
so you cover your hands
in the colors of wrath,
and create a masterpiece so great
that not even you
can recognize your own creation.

Shivani Watson

Shivani Watson is a senior at Allerdice High School. She founded the environmental sustainability club at her school and has participated in environmental activism. Shivani has participated in the Creative Expressions Program at Carnegie Mellon University where she composed and performed music. She was an editor for her school’s literary magazine where her poems have been published.

Howl
by Shivani Watson

I am haunted by a girl who walked on
air. Even flower fields are filled with bombs
Like comets which fall from the sky towards
Our house waltzes across a mountainous
Ballroom. Our partner is already aflame.

My heart is a fire, living outside my body.
He cooks with me but all I taste are the
Ashes. Our family is woven together by
contracts and curses. It will unravel
once shooting stars return to the sky.


About the Award

City of Asylum established the Youth Poet Laureate program in 2020 to recognize young artists in Allegheny County who are passionate about social issues and participate actively in civic life. The Youth Laureate receives:
– a prize of $500
– local performance opportunities with compensation during their term of service (July 2021 – June 2022)
– entry into the Northeast Regional Youth Poet Laureate Competition organized by Urban Word’s National Youth Poet Laureate Network
– publication in the National Youth Poet Laureate Network anthology

Applications for Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County 2021-22 were reviewed by a panel of three judges, Khalil Zeigler, R/B Mertz, and Mairead McCarthy, with expertise in the field of art, social justice, and civic engagement.


Youth Poet Laureate Alumni

City of Asylum is proud to support young artists in Allegheny County through our Youth Poet Laureate Program. You can learn more about our past Youth Poet Laureate here, read their poetry, and watch archived performances online.


Youth Poet Laureate in the Press


City of Asylum is grateful for support from the following partners:

This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the RAD (Allegheny Regional Asset District). Urban Word is the leader of the National Youth Poet Laureate Network and the primary partner of the Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County program.

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