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Hampton Roads Youth Heard: Youth Poet Laureates and Ambassadors

Words and Images Courtesy of Teens With a Purpose.

Sunday, April 24th, State & Local Government, Educational Leaders, Arts & Culture Organizations, friends, and families gathered at the Zeider American Dream Theater to experience youth paying poetic homage to Hampton Roads Black History through ImmortALL and to celebrate youth voice through the Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate culminating event. “Poetry is vital for us to comprehend and value the world around us. Poetry, I have no doubt, teaches us all how to live in some way and the poet, the poet-they bare their souls and open us up to the vulnerabilities of being human in an effort to facilitate a connectedness between us …” Delegate Jackie Hope Glass Virginia’s 89th District so eloquently stated as youth poets stood all around her spellbound taking in her every word and every moment of the evening.

Guest speakers also included Mayor Bobby Dyer, City of Virginia Beach, Mayor Kenneth Alexander, City of Norfolk, and Virginia Beach Council Member Aaron Rouse. Mayor Dyer declared April Virginia Beach Poetry Month and Teens With a Purpose the City’s Poetry Partner. Other distinguished guests included Deputy City Manager, Lavoris Pace, Norfolk, Assistant City Manager, Monica Chapperro, Virginia Beach, Assistant Principal Booker T. Washington Mr. Young, and members of the Union Kempsville Princess Anne Training School Board of Directors and Alumni. Aaron Rouse opened his heart to the young poets saying “don’t let this suit and tie fool you… I am from Youngs Park, Norfolk Va, raised in a single-parent home where my mother raised four kids by herself, my father in prison… this is not a finished product….I am not done yet. It is not how you start it is how you are going to finish that matters. We need more creatives in politics; we need you to engage civically, and we need your voice.”

Four (4) youth with stellar poetry, outstanding civic/social engagement, and energy ascended to the titles of Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureates and Ambassadors: Salma Amrou, Suffolk, and Ayana Askew, Norfolk, were both named Youth Poet Laureates. Their scores were identical. The decision was made to name them both Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureates 2022. Areen Syed, Virginia Beach, and Marjorie Cenese, Norfolk were named Youth Poet Laureate Ambassadors as runner-ups to Salma and Ayana. (Editor’s Note: See Below for a Spotlight on each of these awesome young persons!)

The youth, their teachers, teaching artist, and Creative Program Manager, Richard Love honored Lt. Co. Belin, an elder and graduate of Virginia Beach’s first African American High School during segregation. Mr. Belin shared his story with the youth poets and they responded to his message and life with various poems and a special dedication.

The evening concluded with a special announcement by Michael Cirelli, CEO and Founder of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program. Mr. Cirelli stated that his announcement “will have a major impact nationally”. Cirelli said the National Youth Poet Laureate program will pilot and trailblaze the State-Wide Youth Poet Laureate Program with Teens With a Purpose. Next year the first Virginia Youth Poet Laureate Program will launch under the leadership of Teens With a Purpose as part of the National Youth Poet Laureate initiative.

The National Youth Poet Laureate is a title held in the United States by a young person who demonstrates skill in the arts, particularly poetry and/or spoken word, is a strong leader, is committed to social justice, and is active in civic discourse and advocacy. It is a title awarded annually to one winner among five finalists, most of whom have been chosen as the Poet Laureate for their city or region.

Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate 2022 – Suffolk VA

Salma Amrou is a 17-year-old living in Suffolk, VA and a Senior at Nansemond River High School.

Extracurriculars and Social Engagement:

● She is a senior reporter & illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She was awarded the Frank Keegan “Take No Prisoners” Award for News in 2021, on a news article she wrote about a medical intern’s experience during the Beirut blast.

● Competed with Hampton Roads Youth Poets in the Brave New Voices Slam Poetry competition of 2021, and ranked 3rd place internationally. Her individual poem, “Gaza”, scored the highest in points out of the whole competition.

● Founded and hosted the annual Palitunes: Open Mic & Culture event, based in Norfolk, VA. This event is dedicated to fighting genocide, oppression, and ethnic apartheid in Palestine and all over the world.

● She was awarded the Move Maker Scholarship of 2021 by Teens With a Purpose for her efforts in social and civic engagement.

● She participated in the OTU project with Teens With a Purpose by co-hosting a poetry workshop, writing and performing a verse in the song Troubled Waters, and writing and performing a slam poem about Laura E. Titus at the Chrysler Museum.

● She is a junior editor on a poetry magazine called Polyphony Lit.

Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate 2022 – Norfolk VA

Ayana Askew is a Senior at the Historic Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia. For the past three years, she attended the Governor’s School for the Arts on the Theater track. Ayana is a past member of Teens With a Purpose. She is also a straight-A honors student, with a 4.45 GPA, enrolled in multiple AP classes at Booker T. Ayana is a Norfolk native and the second eldest of four children of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Askew Sr. She enjoys playing tennis, swimming, writing poetry, and playing the piano.

In 2018, Ayana served as a House of Delegates Page in Richmond where she had the opportunity to learn about the legislative process. She was also awarded an Honorable mention by C-SPAN’s National Student-Cam Competition two years in a row. She is also a two-time first-place winner of Norfolk’s Southside Speaking Contest. She served as an intern for Clever Communities in Action which promotes literacy in the Black Community.

Ayana recently won gold in the NAACP ACT-SO competition in the poetry performance category both locally and nationally for the second year in a row. She was also nominated to become a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts for writing by Young Arts. Ayana has always been committed to making a difference in whatever she does whether it be through the poetry she writes to inform, to heal, to bring people together, and to ultimately spark change, or through the leadership responsibilities she has taken on as Senior Class President and Violence Intervention Youth President. She has realized that although we may not live forever, it’s our job to create something that will. At the end of Ayana’s life, she wants to be able to look back and not measure her success by the wealth she accumulated, but rather by the number of souls she was able to touch and the lives she was able to impact. Her favorite quote is, “At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we build; not what we got but what we shared; not our competence but our character; and not our success, but our significance.” Ayana has decided that she wants to live a life that matters, live a life full of love that uplifts and inspires because at the end of life, what she leaves behind is what really matters.

Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate Ambassadors 2022

Areen Syed is a Virginia Beach resident and student at Norfolk Academy. She wrote: I believe that poetry is the best tool for fostering empathy and unification. Words from every language are so rich and filled with beauty, which makes poetry the perfect way to overcome differences. Even the simplest words can have a great impact. “Last year, I felt deeply affected by all the discrimination, health crises, and genocides occurring in the world. My feelings came together as poems, and I began sharing them with my local community. Recently, I won the Young Poets in the Community Fellowship, organized by the Virginia Poet Laureate, Dr. Luisa Igloria. Through this fellowship, I have had the opportunity to share my work at different open mic events, and ODU’s celebration of Black History Month. As part of my project for Young Poets in the Community, I will be creating a program where high school students will help refugee children share their stories through poetry. My activism journey began when I was really young and started working with different communities. In ninth grade, I was the youngest fellow at an international non-profit, Together We Remember, where I had the opportunity to learn more about the 10 stages of genocide, and developed my own social action project, Pages from Our Lives. This initiative seeks to provide a safe space for teenagers to share their experiences of combatting discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or ability. Last summer, I organized an event with thirteen teenage participants that was well-attended by the Hampton Roads community, including a number of local elected officials. The event received a lot of positive feedback, and many people left it feeling more aware of the struggles that teenagers face. I have since grown the Pages from Our Lives following on social media by posting videos of stories and highlighting inspirational women. This passion for storytelling has also shown through in my poetry, as I was awarded a Silver Key for the 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. I aspire to continue writing pieces that can be used as tools to fight social injustice.”

Marjorie Cenese was one of the Poet Laureates for Granby High School in 2021. Graduating as Valedictorian, she used a poem for her graduation speech to recognize that her peers are the future and should be defined by their dreams, not by the coronavirus pandemic. Marjorie has an environmental passion based on her previous work as the president of her high school’s environmental club and as a high school representative of the Norfolk Environmental Commission in 2019. She uses her poetry to cover environmental concerns, her experience in Filipino culture, and loss. Marjorie’s poetry can be found in Granby High School’s Literary Arts Journal “The Cupola” and in Old Dominion University’s “Mace & Crown” magazine. Marjorie is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Engineering at Old Dominion University.

About Teens With a Purpose: TWP is a Hampton Roads non-profit Creative Youth Development organization located in Norfolk Virginia celebrating over 26 years of experience in providing peer leadership training and development that creates a platform to empower young people to use their voice, creativity, reflection, and action to transform lives and impact communities through the arts and peer-led programs and events. Committed to supporting young people’s stories, ideas, & dreams through creative expression & honoring their lived experiences. Teens Creatively Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders.

Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program of Teens with a Purpose, Hampton Roads Youth Poets, and in partnership with Urban Word, supported by PEN Center USA and the Academy of American Poets. The Norfolk Youth Poet Laureate Program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, poetry and performance, and leadership and education across Hampton Roads. In 2016, the program expanded to include all of the Hampton Roads cities. Teens with a Purpose is accepting submissions from young poets, rappers, leaders, and activists ages 14-18 throughout Southeastern Virginia. Visit

About National Youth Poet Laureate Program: National Youth Poet Laureate Program was founded in 2016 by the Urban Word NYC organization, a youth program that provides opportunities for learning creative writing, poetry, spoken word, college prep, literature, and hip-hop to support development and engagement among young adults. The national program is co-sponsored by other local and national organizations that support youth literacy, including Youth Speaks, The President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities, The Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, Cave Canem, and the Library of Congress. Urban Word NYC has been appointing youth poet laureates of New York City since 2009 after seeing young people get more involved and inspired in civic activity after the election of Barack Obama. Their mission then spread to 35 other cities, states, and regions. In 2016, the organization partnered with the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities to make it a national title.

The national competition for Youth Poet Laureate is held in April at the Library of Congress and is judged by a panel of esteemed poets. In its four years of existence, the award has been granted to four teens, Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles in 2017, Patricia Frazier of Chicago in 2018, Kara Jackson also of Chicago in 2019, and Meera Dasgupta of New York City in 2020.

To be chosen as the National Youth Poet Laureate, young people go through an in-depth application process that includes evaluation of their work, poetry and artistic skills, as well as their in-school and extracurricular activities. These activities collectively must show a desire and action to improve and engage their communities.[1] In addition to recognizing the talents of a young generation, the National Youth Poet Laureate program attempts to create spaces for young people to participate in political and cultural conversations of their time. During their year of holding the title of National Youth Poet Laureate, the poet attends events across the country doing readings and advocating for young people to participate in the expression of themselves and their generation through literature and poetry.

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