Leila Mottley, 16, a student at Oakland School of the Arts, has been chosen as Oakland’s 2018 youth poet laureate.
Serving until recently as the 2017 vice youth poet laureate, she said the program has been a blessing in her life.
“I learned so much about what it means to hold space and occupy my voice, and I am so excited to get to do that as 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate,” she said.
The finale of this year’s competition was held in the James Moore Theater at Oakland Museum of California on June 1, where Mottley was named poet laureate.
She was awarded a $5,000 scholarship, and for the next year will be an ambassador for literacy, arts and youth expression.
A poet with a passion for social justice, she hopes to use her new title to address local issues. “I really want to focus on giving voice to the harrowing experience of displacement for youth in our communities, so I’m really excited to see what I can do,” she said.
Mottley is founder of Lift Every Voice, a youth-led art workshop series hosted in the Oakland Public Library’s “Teen Zone” in partnership with Beat Within Workshops. She created the program to connect incarcerated youth with their peers who are outside of the system.
“While I think that programs that put incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth in mentor relationships with adults have great value, I also think that there is a certain kind of support that can only be provided by people in the same age range,” she wrote on the program’s GoFundMe page.
“Youth who have become entangled in the juvenile justice system are habitually underestimated, but I’m confident that if peer advocates utilize our access to resources, and devote our time and energy, we can amplify marginalized voices and help transform this perception.”
Samuel Getachew was named the 2018 vice laureate. He is the sophomore class president at Oakland Technical High School, where he is an editor of The Scribe, a long-standing student publication.
He has performed poems during protests, and his poem about gun violence on the steps of his high school during the National Student Walkout landed him an interview on KTVU.
The youth laureate program is an Oakland Public Library sponsored program for ages 13-18. Library assistant Peggy Simmons said, “these young people give me hope.”
Simmons said the program gives youth a chance to wrap their heads around the changes their city is going through, and to be the leaders they want to be.
Mottley is the Oakland’s eighth youth poet laureate. To learn more about the program, or to book Leila Mottley for a performance or workshop, visit www.oaklandlibrary.org/teens/events-programs/youth-poet-laureate-program