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Meet Philly’s new Youth Poet Laureate: ‘Everyone has a story to tell’

Andre'a Rhoads, 17, is a rising senior at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls. “I want to bring voices together,” she said.

Andre'a Rhoads, a student at Little Flower High School, is the city's new Youth Poet Laureate.
Andre'a Rhoads, a student at Little Flower High School, is the city's new Youth Poet Laureate.Read moreCourtesy of Andre'a Rhoads

Growing up in North Philadelphia, Andre’a Rhoads dreamed of being a writer — someday.

At 17, Rhoads now realizes that’s exactly what she is. City and Free Library of Philadelphia officials announced Thursday that she is Philadelphia’s 2021-22 Youth Poet Laureate, chosen from a competitive pool of applicants.

“Everyone has a story to tell, something to talk about,” said Rhoads, a rising senior at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls. “Everyone is going through something.”

Rhoads got hooked on poetry when she was an elementary school student at the Gesu School in North Philadelphia. The words of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou spoke to her, and she found that expressing her voice through poetry felt natural.

As Youth Poet Laureate, Rhoads will be charged with using her poetry to reach peers across the city. She loves the idea of poetry slams and also plans to produce a short video encouraging Philadelphians to address the rise in gun violence.

“I want to bring voices together,” she said.

Trapeta B. Mayson, the city’s 2020-21 adult poet laureate, called Rhoads’ voice “authentic and powerful.”

“Young writers need creative opportunities to help them grow and shine. The Youth Poet Laureate position is essential in that it offers recognition while uplifting young voices,” Mayson said in a statement.

“Andre’a channels a unique and passionate perspective through her poetry,” said Yolanda Wisher, another past city poet laureate and part of the committee that selected Rhoads. “The Youth Poet Laureate program is sustained by emerging writers like her who want to use their voices to embody and enact change in our city.”

The good news of her honor was welcome after a tough year-plus living through the pandemic, said Rhoads.

She hasn’t set foot inside a classroom since midway through her sophomore year. Little Flower offered in-person classes during her junior year, but Rhoads’ family worried about the health consequences so opted to keep her learning remotely.

“It was hard trying to learn that way, because the teachers couldn’t help you as much,” said Rhoads. “It was hard to take tests and participate.”

Still, Rhoads managed to earn a spot on the honor roll. She’s focused on colleges this summer, aiming to study creative writing and film studies, possibly at the University of Southern California, though she’s also thinking about the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, or Pennsylvania State University.

“I want to do a lot of things — be a screenwriter, an author, and a director,” said Rhoads, who lives with her mother, father, brother, and nephew and plays basketball, sings in choirs, and is active in her church community.

She’s very much looking forward to the coming year. “I just hope that I can motivate and lead, to show that this can happen to anyone if they just work hard enough for it,” she said.

Rhoads succeeds Cydney Brown, a student at Abington Friends.

Excerpt from ‘Jukebox,’ by Andre’a Rhoads, 2021-22 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate

You got some change?

Bring it out

Don’t just stand there

Playing a poor man’s game

Change jingles in your pocket

Like the dangling shackles

Stuck in my ear, hurting my soul