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Oyewumi Oyeniyi is ready to be Philadelphia’s new Youth Poet Laureate. At the announcement of her appointment on Monday at the Free Library of Philadelphia, she wore a tiara.
“My name means royalty. Oyewumi in Yoruba means royalty,” she said. “I wanted to represent.”
She’s been writing poetry “since she can remember” and believes poetry can help the city overcome its problems.
Oyewumi Oyeniyi is Philadelphia’s new Youth Poet Laureate. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
“Every time I walk outside or go on the news it’s, like, gun violence, and there’s homeless people all over who are not given common dignity,” said Oyeniyi, 17, who lives in the Lawncrest neighborhood. “Gunshots do not define us. This homelessness epidemic does not define us. We’re gonna help each other get out of it. I want us to be more in tune with our communities and not be so quick to judge.”
Born in New York of Liberian and Nigerian descent, Oyeniyi grew up in Philadelphia where she is now a senior at Cristo Rey High School in North Philadelphia. As a freshman, she took a class with the city’s former poet laureate, Trapeta Mayson, who teaches a poetry workshop at Cristo Rey as an artist in residence.
Even though the class was three years ago and held virtually due to the pandemic, Oyeniyi stood out to Mayson.
“First of all, I can never forget her name,” said Mayson, who is on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s poet laureate selection committee. “Second of all, her writing was just exquisite and her commitment level was really mature for a ninth grader.”