In its third year, the contest gives youths, who are between 12 and 19 years old as well as residents of Durham, a chance to express themselves through poetry.
“It’s an opportunity to see what young people are really thinking about and to hear their voices,” said Kaley Deal, a junior public policy major at Duke University. “It’s something we’re really excited about.”
Deal is also a past winner and coordinator of the Youth Prophecy Poetry Contest.
Murray was a social activist who grew up in Durham and paved the way for others like her.
Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project, said the contest is an opportunity for youth to get to know Murray’s life and activism and to think about how hard it was to be someone who didn’t fit the norm.
“Poetry allows us to understand more about Pauli Murray’s deepest thoughts,” she said.
According to the website for the contest, it seeks poems that focus on themes of social justice, identity, community, human and civil rights and Durham history.
During the period of the contest, from Feb. 1 to March 31, which Lau said coincides nicely with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the project also offers poetry workshops to interested members of the community.
Lau said she has been impressed by the quality of the submissions in previous years.
“We’ve been making a lot of efforts to reach out to public and private schools and after-school programs to get more people writing and thinking more critically about making the world the one you want to live in,” she said. “Poetry is a way for people to really reflect their values and talk about the things they think are important and need to be changed.”
The contestants are divided into two age groups — ages 12 to 15 and ages 16 to 19. For each of those categories, awards are given for first place, second place and honorable mention. The winners receive $100, $75 and $50, respectively. The poems are judged by a group of people from the community: poets, past winners and others who have a love of poetry. The winners will be announced in April, Deal said.
Leslie Niiro, a sophomore psychology major at Duke University who is involved with the Pauli Murray Project, said she appreciates how Murray was able to do so much.
“It’s about remembering that it is possible to be really passionate about several things and not be overwhelmed by them,” she said.
In the past, the contest has had 40 to 60 submissions, but its goal is to get up to 100 submissions, said Lau. This year the contest is offering a spoken word category, in which Lau said she hopes potential contestants will take interest.
“We have seen in the past — with poetry that has been submitted — young people have really strong views about what’s right and wrong in the world and what role they want to play in the world they want to live in,” she said. “We hope they channel Pauli Murray’s spirit in that way.”
To learn more about the poetry contest and how to enter, visit http://paulimurrayproject.org/youth-prophecy-poetry-contest/.
Edited by: Marisa DiNovis