“Our voices can be heard from the highs of Washington’s monument to the lows in our history.” I wrote that in my poem “Choosing Day” last year. But what happens when we aren’t speaking at all? If our voices aren’t being used, then no one can listen.
I am the Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and a Gold Award Girl Scout ambassador. I have been in love with poetry for as long as I could remember, and I am constantly inspired by others and the world. This week at the presidential inauguration, Amanda Gorman — the first national youth poet laureate in the U.S. — gave her inspiring inaugural poem following in the footsteps of one of my idols, Maya Angelou. That day I received a wave of love from my peers, teachers, and family friends exclaiming that as she spoke, they all pictured me being afforded that same opportunity. A win for Amanda is a win for all of us Black girls raised by single mothers who are striving to achieve our dreams. I would be delighted to collaborate with her in the near future.
Many people don’t know what a poet laureate does. Helping others and sharing my poetry has always been a part of what I do, but as youth poet laureate, I’ve been able to bring that to far more Philadelphians.
Being Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia means that I am the youth ambassador of poetry in Philadelphia. I lead workshops, partake in poetry readings, and talk about my experiences as a 16-year-old poet. Some of my favorite moments during my term have been getting to lead a workshop and poetry reading at Lincoln University, reciting poetry at Benjamin Franklin Hall, and performing at the MLK Cabaret hosted by CJ Miller presented by the Wings of Paper Theatre, benefiting the Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia. Then in February, I will be leading a workshop series entitled “Words to Action,” where I will be able to connect with more youth to talk about social justice issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement (all students interested in poetry can sign up at cydtalks.com).
At these events, what has been most impactful are the connections I’ve made, even while virtual. Meeting people I otherwise would not have had the chance to meet. For me, poetry is sharing a piece of myself you wouldn’t know from just looking at me. I share my thoughts and emotions, and the most rewarding part of doing so is when my writing resonates with people.
It can be hard even for poets to remember that our voices matter. Last year, I was at a point where I thought I wasn’t good enough because I had been told that — and I told myself that. But then at a Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania workshop based on self-love, I heard that when I close my eyes, my opinion of myself is all that matters, and that allowed me to believe in myself. When I started focusing on how I viewed myself and put positive words of affirmation on my door, I was able to put things into action by helping others love themselves. And that gave me the confidence to apply to be Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia.
My goal is to inspire young girls to speak their truth because it is valid and it is important — and to gain the confidence they need to pursue becoming a poet themselves, or to strive for any dream that their heart is set on. Writing has been a great outlet for me to get my thoughts down and process my feelings. It has been extremely healing for me, and I love how words can inspire someone else. If you are not using your voice, then no one can listen. As I wrote in “Choosing Day”: “You command the power to turn tidal waves into tsunamis.”
So, I urge you — especially young women — to shout your message from the rooftops, your remarkable and revolutionary ideas, because no one is going to do it for you. And I guarantee that someone is listening, even if you do not see them.
Cydney Brown is the Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate as well as a Girl Scout ambassador and Girl Scout Gold Award recipient in the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP) council. Instagram @cydtalks. www.cydtalks.com. To learn more about the youth poet laureate program, visit freelibrary.org/programs/poet-laureate.