On May 25, 2020, a man named George Floyd was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes while other officers stood by and watched. In response to these incidents and the ongoing mistreatment of African Americans in this country, there were widespread protests both in the United States and around the world. In addition to this civil unrest, people around the world are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. This has hit young people especially hard because we have been confined to our houses and have missed seeing our friends at school.
As we witnessed repeated video footage and images about the lack of value for Black life in America, I launched the “I Matter” project to provide an outlet for youth to process and express their thoughts, fears, and hopes. I took action because in the reflection of the eyes of the beautiful young woman named Breonna Taylor, I saw my own reflection. I was 14-years-old in May of 2020, but I was called to action to provide a forum and a voice for youth in America.
The “I Matter” project united youth in 26 states to create powerful and thoughtful poems about the beauty of melanin, the strength of Black America, and the power of youth to bring about change. A judging panel from Gucci reviewed the poems and narrowed down the list to the top 10. Celebrity Judges hip hop icon Kool Moe Dee, Grammy-nominated singer Tamara “Taj” George, and comedienne Torrei Hart selected the top entry. The winning poem, Hey Google, written by Khabria Fisher-Dunbar posed important questions to the world’s largest search engine such as:
Why do I have to be twice as better?
Don’t you know that I try my best and still get talked down on?
While exploring a pressing social justice issue, I Matter helped cultivate the next Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes. If you asked me in July 2020 if I would host the competition in 2021, I would have said yes, but in my heart I hoped that things would have improved. As I sat in my bedroom in December 2020 reading about the tragic deaths of Andre Hill and Casey Goodson, and as I watched the video of Keyon Harrold’s grandson being commanded to return his “stolen” cell phone, I know that there is so much work still left to be done. I implore students of all ages to speak up about why Black Lives Matter through poetry and through their everyday actions.
Enter the 2021 competition today: http://www.nationalyouthfoundation.org/i-matter/