Words are important. Words are all around us and with you right now as you read this. Words, to me, are among the most beautiful gifts that I have ever gotten from or given to anyone. I believe this so strongly that I’ve dedicated myself to ensuring that words play an important part in the lives of others. 

Photo of a Black woman with a yellow, white, black, and red head wrap standing in front of a blue hutch that has books inside. The front cover of the book "Hair Love," featuring a cartoon depction of a Black man and little girl looking at one another, is visible. I currently serve as my hometown’s Poet Laureate. As the first ever poet laureate of Paterson, NJ, I have the amazing opportunity to have a term equal with that of mayor. My motto has been, “Meet the people where they are,” which means that I’ve gone to day camps; created contests for children; honored legacy wordsmiths; collaborated with visual artists, musicians, dancers; and created spaces for the voice of others. 

From now until the end of my term in 2022, I plan to increase my efforts to encourage writers of all ages and abilities, create opportunities for all voices – including native languages – and promote literacy. The best part of being the poet laureate of my hometown is witnessing my community shift to include poetry in their lives, at their events: birthday parties, memorials, fundraisers, parades, etc.

A very young poet growing up in this city, I did not see poetry included in this way. I am delighted to be part of the poetic growth here.

Photo of a young Black man in a salmon-colored tshirt is holding a microphone and speaking from behind a pedastol with a plackard that says Paterson Poetry Festival. The letters TRY are displayed behind him in rainbow colors on top of tan stone steps.
Photo by Crystal Davis Phothography

Word Seed, Inc., or WSI, is one way that I help to lift the words of others. The literary focused nonprofit arts organization is the host of the annual Paterson Poetry Festival that takes place in October. I created the Festival because I wanted poets and poetry lovers to have a Super Bowl-level event to celebrate their craft. 

The 2021 event is a hybrid, four-day event that welcomes the whole family to have an enjoyable experience with words, together. There’s a live band, The Poetry in Motion Car Show, master classes, open mic, featured poets, vendors, food, and lots of poetry. You can view the event countdown on the website, and also read about the features and master classes as the date gets nearer.

Photo of three teens putting together a wooden box that will be used for Little Free Library boxes. They are in what seems to be a gymnasium that is painted white on the top half and a dark green below. There is a white and red basketball net visible in the upper left hand portion of the photo. Word Seed also stewards a growing number of Little Free Libraries in the Parks. The award-winning project provides free books to the community. Its goal is to install a library in each of the city’s 46 parks. WSI hosts programs like S’mores Books and Books & Breakfast, for example, to encourage reading and community engagement. If you want to donate books, go to www.wordseedinc.org, where you’ll be able to find a map of the Little Free Library locations. Place the books directly into the libraries and, while you’re there, take note of the art by local artists on some of the boxes.

Do you remember when your teacher encouraged you to “use your words?” I am that teacher. My Paterson Public School District Middle School scholars hear those words often to help them grow their verbal communication skills as well as their written communication skills. The Paterson Poetry Festival Youth Poetry Contest was created with them in mind. The entire district, inclusive of private and charter schools, are welcome to compete in the contest open to grades 3-12. 

Photo of six Black adults and two Black children holding books and smiling for the camera in front of a table that has a black and white table cloth in front of a large window. The room they are in has white walls with a few black frames that seem to house word art on the walls. There are two black chairs to the right of the image, next to one of the adults. For the very young reader, conception to age 3, WSI hosts the Seed to 3 Literacy program, designed to help caregivers offer the love of words to their babies and grow their personal libraries. If you’d like to read to babies, learn how to read to babies, or know a family that could use some books, send an email to info@wordseedinc.org

I encourage you to get involved in the word, plant a seed, and watch it grow.