First Lady Cooper And Jaki Shelton Green Honor Columbus County High School Poet Laureates At The Executive Mansion

Author: Kyesha Jennings

Our state Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green, continues her focus on youth programming in efforts to support both literacy and civic engagement across North Carolina through poetry and the literary arts. As part of these efforts, Mrs. Green has partnered with Mr. Kelly Jones, Arts Education Coordinator with Columbus County Schools, to develop a pilot program to install young poet laureates at Columbus County’s four high schools. In March of 2022, four youth poet laureates were appointed; Lea Dew, Abigail McPherson, Allyena Roberts, and Justin Wellons.

Students interested in being named to the post participated in several poetry workshops that Green led, submitted their applications, and received cocurricular and extracurricular support from teachers and staff at their respective schools.

To celebrate the newly appointed Columbus County high school poet laureateships, First Lady Kristin Cooper hosted a small reception at the Executive Mansion on October 11th. “It was a glorious day for a celebration. The school officials referred to the experience as a life-changing event for the students,” said Green. “I hope I can continue to manifest this dream for students across our state.”

Governor Cooper and Fred Joiner, poet laureate of Carborro, NC were in attendance. The students read selected poems and were presented with a small gift basket and a letter of recognition from the First Lady and Governor. “The arts and humanities are an important part of our lives every day—they connect cultures, promote well-being, address inequities, and make North Carolinians stronger in many ways. I want to encourage you to continue writing and reading, as mastering those two skills will allow you to follow any career path your heart desires,” the First Lady said while honoring the students.

This event commemorates the significance of the first Poet Laureate-initiated effort to create high school poet laureateships across the state. The event was sponsored by the North Carolina Arts Foundation.

a collage of photos featuring the youth poet laureates, Jaki Shelton Green, Governor Cooper and First Lady Cooper

a collage of photos featuring the youth poet laureates reciting their poetry

Gifts for youth poet laureates

Columbus County Youth Poet Laureate Poems 

These Hands of Mine
Abigail McPherson

As a person, I am gifted,
Gifted with a body of my own.
A soul of my own.

I express this body and this soul with these hands of mine.
Whether it be the violent, messy scribbling of misshapen words onto a page,
The swift pen strokes of elaborate depiction,
Or a firm grip of greeting,
These hands of mine tell a story.

They tell the stories of memories,
Of frigid, satin mountain water running through my fingers.
Of the smooth skin of a gently embraced lover.
Of the rigid grip of an eons-old pencil.

They are a teller of the past in motions paired with verbal language.
They are a resourceful communication with deaf ears.
They are a comforting presence laid upon a quivering shoulder.

All of these contributions, these hands of mine offer,
With so much still yet to receive.
The solid promise of a ring that holds the gravity of eternity.
The smooth, metallic surface of a doorknob that unlocks a serene lodging of my own. 
The plush, miniature clothing cladding new flesh.

These hands of mine, 
Whether they be recalling the feeling of vigorous finger work across the surface of an inherited clarinet,
Or imagining the feeling of some far away, blissful dream,
Carry a monumental weight of significance,
A reminder of cherished feelings.

These hands of mine,
They hold what has been, 
And are wide open to grasp 
what is to come.

The Vision
Justin Wellons

There's this dream I get a lot,
A vision if you would,
Most days it is late at night,
And I never know why but I do,
A sight so vivid yet I hardly remember,
A voice so familiar yet I never heard,
A touch so warm yet gives no heat,
A content mind at peace with the world,
An uncorrupted soul,
With a heart of pure conviction,
Where chains of society no longer bound me,
Where I could fly between the stars I love so deeply,

When my wings could no longer soar,
A grip so soft carried me the rest of the way,
Not once did I ever think it would be reality,
But our hands entwined and the vision materialized 

A Five Piece Self Reflection
Leah Dew

Gazed affixed to a messy sculpture resembling human touch 
Years of work poured into a piece that has risky chances 
Though some passersby see a spark every so often
No one claims ownership of the lost work

However when I look into your rushed curves paired with meticulous details 
I see what no one cares to look for
In your captivating array of various pieces of mind
I’m entranced by how they work together to create a disastrous masterpiece

Your silhouette mirrors the image of Venus
Carelessly wallowing in the enchanted oyster
Mindlessly taking advantage of the fragility and delicacy 
That only the pearl that sits perfectly upon your ear can contain

Though your lack of attention to detail causes missteps 
Your mind is scattered with never ending knowledge 
Only being found in the forbidden teachings of Athens 
Constructed by none other God himself

One would assume time readily consumed
By reflection presented through the stillness of water
Though when weary glances fall upon unforgiving mirrored displays 
The image distorts as though almost forgotten

I am Alleyna
Alleyna Roberts

I am Alleyna
I am the reason Alleyna exists today
I am the identity of the woman I came from

The peace and love of a name well remembered
The pillow full of tears that dry
While the others fall

I am the stories told to your children and
Your children’s children
I am the embrace that Alleyna gives her father 
when he speaks of her

The old recipes that her grandmother gives her
The house that was left behind for her daughter

I am the words of bullies who speak badly of my name

For I am the spirit, memory and image of her past

I am Alleyna.
 

Kyesha Jennings

KYESHA JENNINGS is the content director for the North Carolina Arts Council where as a part of the marketing and communications team, she curates, produces, and develops content that highlights the diversity and vitality of the arts in our state. An award-winning hip-hop scholar, Kyesha is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where her research primarily focuses on Black women writers, hip-hop feminism, and popular culture. Her writing has been published in both academic and non-academic outlets such as LifeHacker, HotNewHipHop, Vulture, Indy Week, CLTure, and Scalawag Magazine.

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