Toluwanimi Obiwole, a third-year architectural engineering major at the University of Colorado Boulder, is Denver’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate.
The 20-year-old college student competed for the title alongside four other finalists on March 20 at the Althea Center in Denver. At the event, she recited her coming-of-age poem “According to my Upbringing.”
Obiwole says she plans to use her recognition to encourage young people “to see the necessity and applications of poetry in their everyday lives.”
“I don't want to only inspire new poets, but doctors, visual artists, engineers and everyone else to see that everything they do is poetry,” Obiwole says.
Obiwole will receive a book deal from Penmanship Books and the $2,500 Russell J. Arkind Memorial Scholarship, an annual award presented by Denver youth poetry organization Minor Disturbance. With the yearlong title, Obiwole will also assume responsibilities such as reading poems at official ceremonies, engaging in important youth-oriented civic issues and promoting literacy throughout the city.
An excerpt from “According to my Upbringing”:
my auntie believed there were words a little girl should never yell
no is too much of a sinkhole, stretches her mouth and fills it with sand
no one wants a girl with more rocks than all the stars inside her ready to throw
everyone is afraid that if they ask loud enough God will answer and they will have to listen
little girls have the power to ask and make everyone listen.
The Denver Youth Poet Laureate program is a result of a collaboration between the state-run arts agency Colorado Creative Industries, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Minor Disturbance, music education initiative Youth on Record and Urban Word.
"The Youth Poet Laureate engages one youth to represent the metro area on that level and speak as a voice for youth in a professional setting," Minor Disturbance director Ken Arkind told CPR earlier this year. "It’s not just an award. The goal is to turn out future leaders."
Arkind said he has been working to bring the Youth Poet Laureate position to fruition for about three years. Other cities, like New York City, already have similar programs.