Art and culture play an indispensable role in our democratic society – from inspiring and engaging us as individuals to reminding us of our struggles, triumphs, and shared roles in our community. Poetry in particular possesses a powerful democratic strength: its intimate, individual voice also summons any number of facets of our communal life. This feels more important than ever right now, in a technology-driven era of fragmentation and isolation.
With this in mind, Civic Nebraska works closely with the Nebraska Writers Collective to make all of our democracy-building programs and activities stronger. From young poets performing original work at our Civic Saturday gatherings to Collective leaders sharing their incredible work at our yearly gala, our two groups have naturally grown into powerful partnership.
We’re especially eager to join the process of choosing, supporting, and championing Nebraska’s next Youth Poet Laureate. First, that means helping to judge the candidates for the 2023-24 title. Once selected, Civic Nebraska will pair the newly named Youth Poet Laureate with a mentor from our organization to guide them and provide professional advice on matters of civic engagement.
Civic Nebraska also will help with the creation, implementation, and support of a civic engagement project of the youth poet’s design. During the year-long mentorship, we will ensure the proper development and advancement of the Youth Poet Laureate program’s goal of employing poetry to spread civic awareness and connectedness across Nebraska.
The program, as part of a state-by-state initiative led by Urban Word, identifies influential youth poets with a history of artistic success, civic and community engagement, social justice initiatives, and leadership. Mimi Yu (2021-22) and Tanya Bachu (2022-23), our state’s first two laureates, have set the bar high for future young Nebraskans. Here’s how the Nebraska Writers Collective describes the civic component of the Youth Poet Laureate’s yearlong tenure:
By “Civic Engagement,” we mean any consistent commitment to strengthening and promoting the quality of life in the Youth Poet Laureate applicant’s community or school. They might frequently participate in local theater productions, provide financial support to their family through an after-school job, or collect litter in their neighborhood. By “Social Justice,” we mean examples in the Youth Poet Laureate applicant’s life that display a commitment to equity, inclusivity, activism, and the fundamental right of youth to be outspoken. This might look like political activism, classroom and club participation, volunteerism, as well as various educational and artistic initiatives, such as a public, performance arts showcase to destigmatize mental illness.
We’re eager to get started – stay tuned for more on this project this spring!