Writing with Power: Finding Voice in NextGen

Jun 21st, 2019 | By | Category: NextGen Louisville, Summer 2019

by Akwelle Quaye

Akwelle Quaye (Louisville, KY) just finished her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University. In her spare time, she loves to write poetry and practice hand lettering.

Being a part of the BLTN NextGen Leadership Network has opened me up to a world of amazing opportunities, a world that has taught me more about myself. Before NextGen, I was losing hope. I felt as if I was too young, in too small of a place, and without enough resources to change all the problems I found in my community. Now, I know how to make practical changes, using any resources I can get my hands on to help even one person. I’m also learning to use my voice to network and spread awareness about issues plaguing our communities. NextGen took me from a person who wanted to help to an activist who is creating positive change.

When I joined NextGen in 2017, I had no idea of the drastic change I would go through as a social activist, writer, and person. I can thank the amazing people I met and connected with for helping me grow into a kinder and more patient person. Whether it was a sweet boy from Lawrence who showed me how I could use my poetry as both a personal outlet and a loudspeaker for issues impacting my community, or listening to Dixie Goswami speak on how important it is for young people to initiate positive change around the community, I was inspired by the people around me to work hard and create a positive environment for young marginalized people like me.

NextGen invigorated me and continues to do so every day. I’ve long been very passionate about issues that affect me, an upper-middle class black girl. However, meeting people from different socioeconomic classes, different ethnic backgrounds, who all had different struggles, made me realize how much work needs to be done in so many different communities. Making friends from all these communities has inspired me to want to help in any way I can, to create a world where all of us people, regardless of who we are, can thrive.

My writing has also grown substantially while being part of NextGen. Before I joined this network, I was writing pieces, but I felt I was writing mostly for school, and the little bit of writing I did outside of an academic piece had no meaning to me: I was just purging my thoughts. During my first NextGen conference, I experienced a shift in the way I looked at writing. I remember during one of our sessions we were told to write about our favorite color. I wrote a short piece about the color yellow, and how it grew to represent happiness and light in the face of darkness. When I read this piece aloud, I saw the way people were moved–they could relate to the complex past I’d just conveyed. From that moment on, I knew that even if I was writing about something as simple as my day, it was possible to write in a way to inspire and connect with others.

After that first conference, I wrote with purpose. I began to write pieces as a catalyst for change. My goal was to invoke the strong feelings of  turmoil and pain I felt in those who could help me change these feelings for better ones. My first project as a member of NextGen was an anthology of poems detailing my experience as a black girl in the United States, and I was able to reach out to some of my past teachers who didn’t realize the implicit racism present within their classrooms. Here is an excerpt from this anthology of poems:

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
What I’ve been through.
I don’t want my grandchildren to go through:

It starts with us.

Let’s do more to
douse the ever changing flame
of racism.
We can teach.
We can bring life to new things.
We can give each other tours of the world.
We can give each other harmony.

Knowledge brings us together.

Having that type of tangible influence on my community was astounding to me. I didn’t think I was able to have that type of impact through my writing, but NextGen made me realize this was possible. Almost two years after that first conference, I still work every day to make small changes in my community, whether it’s being the Community Service Chair in my school’s chapter of National Society of Black Engineers or continuing to write poetry about the things I see around me. Without NextGen, I wouldn’t be an optimistic person, ready to change the world.

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