The kids are making some good noise.

“I used to feel different from all the other teens. So different I never wanted to be seen. I felt the urge to run and hide. So people wouldn't see me on the inside,” recited Amya Woodard Smith, talking about the alienation she feels as a teen with a disability.

She was performing at the annual poetry showcase held by Teens with a Purpose. This the eighth year the local organization is choosing a regional poet laureate. They’ll also be selecting a statewide youth poet laureate. 

The event to choose the regional poet was a cross between a poetry slam and an awards ceremony. 

The teens came dressed up, or down, reading from crumpled papers or reciting straight from memory. All of them spoke about things close to their hearts.

“Your father hates the way I say my name,” read Shawna Alston, who shared her poem “In Hopes of a Future Colored Bright.”

“He says I’m not the kind of person you should love. He believes your cheekbones hold secrets yet discovered. He is digging for them with his knuckles. He has yet to find them. But we have found love! Sore and scabbed. We have found love.”

Amina Adeyola wore a hijab and spoke about the different cultures in her home. 

“My stepmother makes collard greens on the stove. I tell her she has to teach me how to make kanafa. She says she has to teach me much more.”

“I wear her hattah scarf around my neck, the Palestinian flag across me. We have our own border. Her family, a different tongue from a country of borders still shrinking,” Adeyola read. 

“We know a good thing in this kitchen: a way around countries.”

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Photo by Laura Philion 

Areen Syed of Norfolk shared a poem about water pollution and was named Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate.

Deirdre Love runs Teens With a Purpose. Love works with these high schoolers everyday – they call her Mama D.

“We are making sure youth voice is heard and things are changed, because youth are speaking,” Love said. “And adults — if you're smart, you're listening.”

Areen Syed is 17 years old and goes to Norfolk Academy. She’s been working with Love for about a year, and she was named the 2023 Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate in late April.

“When I was in fourth grade, I was called a terrorist by one of my classmates due to my Islamic religion,” Syed said. “And so that was something that really stuck with me.”

She began to think about all the things others didn’t see about her.

“Mama D always tells me to speak my truth," she said.

"And I think that's something that's so essential to this. The fact that you have poetry as a tool to talk about yourself, your own story, and it really gets to people, like, it opens their minds and hearts.”