After watching repeated news stories and footage about the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Isabella Hanson felt there needed to be a platform for youth to have their voices heard and process the pain they were witnessing from the tragedies.

Hanson, 15, launched “I Matter,” a national art and poetry contest on the Black Lives Matter Movement, one year ago.

The contest drew participation from students in 26 states. The top poems and art were compiled in a book honoring the Black people killed in 2020.

“I wanted to create a space for the youth to have a voice for self-expression about why Black Lives Matter and a place for their voices to be heard,” Hanson said. “I think it was cathartic for the participants to use the “I Matter” platform to process their reactions to everything that was going on.”

Hanson and the “I Matter” Project will be a part of an event titled “The Role of the Artist in the Journey Toward Freedom” at Cheyney University’s Marian Anderson Auditorium on Saturday.

Winners from the inaugural poetry competition will share their poems and art on why Black Lives Matter. Hanson will also read the winning poem from the contest, “Hey Google,” written by Khabria Fisher-Dunbar.

The occasion will also feature a lecture and Q & A session with acclaimed writer, award-winning poet, activist and scholar Caroline Randall Williams.

Williams is on the faculty at Vanderbilt University as writer-in-residence in the Department of Medicine, Health and Society.

A reception will be held prior to the poetry readings and lecture.

“Our segment is jam-packed and it’s going to be amazing,” Hanson said. “The way the poets present themselves is really special and I feel like everybody needs to experience that. I want people to leave our event feeling inspired.”

Cheyney’s keynote lecture is a part of Chester County’s inaugural Juneteenth Festival, a program featuring nationally known speakers, performances, local programming and celebrations through July 5.

The festival is a partnership between the Chester County Historic Preservation Society, Voices Underground, the Chester County History Center, and the Chester County Planning Commission.

President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday establishing June 19 as a federal holiday.

“We’re excited to participate in an event that celebrates the journey toward freedom in the African-American community,” said Christa Cobb, director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Responsibility at Cheyney University.

“Hosting an important discussion on Juneteenth sends a compelling message about Cheyney University’s historic role in education, advocacy, equity and social justice,” she added.

Cobb said she hopes the event gives people some lifelong benefits.

“What I want people to take away from the event is a sense of community in terms of being able to come together to discuss the journey toward freedom as it relates to what the experience has been for the African-American community, but also how that journey toward freedom requires participation from all communities,” Cobb said.

“My hope is that people participating in this event will have a better understanding of some of the challenges, but also see opportunities where as a country we can come together to not only engage in dialogue, but to be more tactful.”

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