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Monday, May 12, 2014

The 2014 Young Heroes Award by Sojourner Ahebee



     Hey all! I know it’s been a while, but I wanted to take a few moments to give a shout out to a very special organization. A few years ago I was given the honor of being named a Young Hero by the National Liberty Museum. It was so inspiring to be recognized, at such a young age, for my efforts within my community, so I encourage young people all over the country to look into this fabulous opportunity. Please read the following information, and visit the link at the end for more context. Thank you all!


For 13 years the National Liberty Museum has recognized young people who have championed freedom and liberty through their actions. All too often the efforts of our young people to make a positive impact gets overlooked. Through our Young Heroes Award we are able to recognize young people who have taken action where liberty is lacking to promote positive social change. Students have done this through their civic engagement, encouraging peaceful resolutions to conflict, promoting tolerance and diversity and demonstrating leadership.


                                              "Flame of Liberty" by Dale Chihuly.


     We are currently accepting nominations for the 2014 Young Heroes Award sponsored by TD Bank now through June 30th, 2014.

     To download a nomination form or to submit a nomination through our online form, please go to https://libertymuseum.org/liberty-institute/awards/heroes/

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee Meets Mighty Writers

Sojourner Ahebee standing in front of the Mighty Writers location in West Philadelphia.

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit the Mighty Writers in West Philadelphia and meet some amazing young writers and the adults who mentor and inspire them.  Mighty Writers is an organization dedicated to helping students think and write clearly and using these skills to find success in school and life.  

Mighty Writers Teen Scholars













I  shared with these teen scholars, who come to Mighty Writers afterschool, my journey as a writer, information about the  Scholastic Art and Writing  Awards http://www.artandwriting.org/about-us/    and the National Student Poets Program  http://www.artandwriting.org/the-awards/national-student-poets-program/.  I also read some of my poetry and answered questions.  But the best part of the evening for me was talking one on one with these talented students and reading some of their work.  

Sojourner reading from NSPP chapbook
I have to give a huge shout-out to Annette John-Hall, the highly lauded former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, who is now the director of the Mighty Writers West Philadelphia site.  She organized my visit and I was so warmly received.
Here is a great link to Ms. John-Hall and some teen scholars in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AA9qYc8tXlQ

National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee and Annette John-Hall,  Program Director of Mighty Writers West 
Again, I want to thank the entire staff of Mighty Writers for not only welcoming me, but for the important work that they do with young people.  To learn more about the Mighty Writers program, which has two locations, click here:   http://www.mightywriters.org/west-philly-academy/

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Wish You A Poem For Your Troubles: Alzheimer's Poetry Workshop by Sojourner Ahebee

National Student Poet, Sojourner Ahebee
About a month ago I had the chance to reconnect with old memories. How, you ask? Alzheimer’s poetry workshop, I say. On a cold February afternoon, the time of year the snow takes over in Northern Michigan, the time of year you stop believing in magic, Mickayla Noel and Eleanor Rudnitsky-Brown, my fellow writers, and I visited a nursing home ten minutes away from my school to facilitate a poetry workshop with the residents. On our ride to the home, all of our stomachs were bursting with butterflies. We were going into unknown territory, and that scared us. 

When we arrived, some of the residents were already situated in the common area, with the February light pouring into the room as I and my group members unpacked our poems. Some of the residents were being pushed in on wheel chairs as well, their faces searching our eyes like you would a stranger. I then proceeded to walk into the middle of the room and introduce myself. We then went around the room and asked the residents to say their names for us. A woman on the far right in a blue pullover told us her name was Irene. I responded with “that’s a beautiful name. I have a friend named Irene.” Her smile illuminated the very room we stood in. As we continued around the room with introductions, it was evident that these residents were in different stages of the disease. The early-stage patients were able to make eye contact and respond to questions quite quickly. Some of the later-stage patients had their heads down to the point that I couldn't even see their eyes. One woman in particular had her head drooping into her lap, but when I went over and held her hand while asking her name, she focused her eyes on me and smiled, whispering her name softly.

I started the workshop with Billy Collins’ poem entitled “Forgetfulness”. This involved a call-and-response technique. I would read a line of the poem and then ask the residents to repeat the line back as a means for them to both play with language and to exercise memory. This exercise got off to a rocky start. The residents were shy and had trouble jumping in. But, as we progressed through the poem and they became more familiar with their poetic voices, they were more readily able to feed the lines back to me. In no time the residents were reciting not only the Collins' poem but the poems of Robert Hayden and Wilfred Owen . Some did so quietly in hushed whispers, while others filled the room loudly with the words of these poets. 

This experience was so powerful. Not only because of the memory aspect, but because we were working together to uncover language, to uncover narrative, and most importantly, to uncover the power of the human voice. This was an exchange in which both the residents and my group and I were making a conscious attempt to understand each other.


After the reading and reciting  about five poems, my group and I moved on to our final exercise: the writing of a collaborative poem. I assigned Mickayla the job of being the scribe for this exercise. When we were ready to start, Mickayla collected her huge white pad and sharpie and proceeded to position herself in the middle of the common room so she could better listen to what the residents would have to say. I then explained to the patients that we were going to attempt to write a “Where I’m From” poem. The task appeared daunting at first, but they went along. I started with simple questions like “where was your first home?” and “what was your hometown known for?” As the dialogue progressed, together we began to uncover the history and narratives that the residents had carried with them for quite some time. As we went along, they told me the names of their childhood dogs, their favorite plants, family traditions, people they were very close to, lovers, their favorite meals as children etc. As the residents took turns answering the questions, Mickayla, the scribe, would write all of the details down onto the pad where the poem was growing into this magnificent living thing. Soon everyone was engaged in discussion with each other, and there was no stopping. It almost felt as if time didn’t matter. This was more than the making of a poem. This was memory emanating from our very mouths.

My short time spent at the nursing home was special because the residents were makers, they were poets for a quick hour. As they shouted bits of Dickinson through the air, or gave me sensory details about the interiors of their homes, I was forced to think of my grandmother, who, too, was afflicted with Alzheimer's. I was forced to remember the resilience in her wrinkles as she recited Langston Hughes on her death bed.  All I could do was smile as the residents learned to take control of their world with the power of words. I know my grandmother would be proud, and because of that, I can’t ask for anything more. 

Left to Right: Mickayla, Eleanor, and Sojourner
But you might ask, why poetry? What can poems do for the forgetful? Well, poets and doctors alike are starting to make connections between poetry, memory, and the human mind. Apparently a special part of your brain lights up when you encounter a poem, especially one you have encountered before. While creating my proposal for this very workshop, I purposely included poems that the residents may have come upon while in school or during their youth so the workshop would really engage them on a memory level. A big shout out goes to Gary Glazner and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project for providing me with workshop techniques and much needed insight on the Alzheimer’s disease itself. Also, a huge thank you to the National Student Poets Program for helping me make this project a reality, Suwan Kim for documenting this project with her gorgeous photography, as well as the nursing home that hosted us. 

I came into the nursing home expecting to change the residents, but in the end they really changed me. They allowed me to see the significance language can play in our lives at different stages of life, and for that, I thank them with all my heart.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Am in Such Great Company ; My Friends Are My Estate



Rob Casper, Head of the Poetry and Literature Center at Library of Congress and NSPP Juror hosted the 2013 National Student Poets in the stunning Poetry Room this past September. Poets Dean Young and Matthea Harvey read their poetry and traded collections with the 2013 National Student Poets. Download your copy of the National Student Poets Program chapbook here:http://bit.ly/1775FW5 

(from left: Institute of Museum and Library ServicesDirector Susan Hildreth; President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Director of Program Initiatives Kimber Craine; Matthea Harvey; Sojourner Ahebee; Nathan Cummings; Louis Lafair; Aline Dolinh; Michaela Coplen; Rob Casper; Dean Young and Executive Director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Virginia McEnerney).


* Photo- NSPP Facebook Page
* My Friends Are My Estate-Emily Dickinson
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Opportunities for Young Writers: 

A Literary Sailing Adventure for Teens 13-17!
Black Dog Tall Ships --Writers' Week





National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee and Poet Billy Collins Read Poetry at White House


First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden hosted a poetry recital in honor of Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, wife of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in the Blue Room of the White House, on Oct. 23, 2013. Poems were read by Billy Collins, an American poet, and myself, Sojourner Ahebee, a student poet.


First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden host a tea and poetry recital in honor of Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif.

The formidable and popular poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins read some of his poetry for this occasion. 

First Lady Michelle Obama, Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee, and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice-President Joe Biden. This was Sojourner's second visit to the White House.

Rachel Goslins, Executive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, National Student Poet Sojourner Ahebee, Poet Billy Collins and Olivia Morgan, founder of the National Student Poets Program and PCAH member. 
*Photos- by Amanda Lucidon 

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Opportunities for Young People in the Creative Arts: 
The Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship

Organized as a vehicle to perpetuate Anthony Quinn’s vision for an art conscious society, the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship Program raises and distributes funds for arts education. The Scholarship Program focuses on the Visual Arts & Design, Performing Arts, Media Arts, and Literary Arts for young adults in high school. Scholarship recipients can apply Foundation funds to any recognized pre-college, summer or after-school arts education program. Funds awarded will be sent directly to the pre-college, summer or after-school arts education program designated by the student. The Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship cannot be used for secondary school or college tuition. 




















Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sojourner Ahebee's Interview in Winter Tangerine Review

Art is 'The Dark Days Are Done' by Pierre Chaumont.

Sojourner Ahebee: Shedding Infinite Light

Sojourner Ahebee writes poetry that haunts. Her writing explores the dynamic between immigrants and Americans, with the latter painted as blind to the struggles the former endures. Sojourner writes to inform and to wake up the people who pretend that there is no corruption or abuse in the relationship between foreigners and their new homes. She sheds light where most cast darkness, and it has been a pleasure reading her work, and learning more about her artistic process.

To Read the Interview, Click Here:
 http://wintertangerine.com/sojourner-abehee-haunting-humble-and-shedding-infinite-light

To purchase issues of Winter Tangerine Review or to subscribe, click here: 

 http://wintertangerine.com/purchase/




*Young Writers Opportunity:  Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has an impressive legacy dating back to 1923. Over the years, the Awards have grown to become the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the U.S., and the nation’s largest source of scholarships for creative young artists and writers. A noteworthy roster of past winners includes Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, John Updike, and many more.  To learn how to enter, click here: 
http://www.artandwriting.org/the-awards/how-to-enter/










Photographs of the 2013 National Student Poets in Washington, D.C.

2013 National Student Poets at their  Appointment Ceremony in Washington, D.C. with the wonderful representatives of the sponsoring organizations of the NSPP/ Sept. 2013 
2013 National Student Poets with writer Joyce Carol Oates at the National Book Festival /Sept, 2013

2013 National Student Poets with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey at an event at the Library of Congress/Sept. 2013

Ted McBride, my uncle, me and Octavia McBride-Ahebee, my mother, while we waited in the Yellow Room of the White House for  the arrival of  Michelle Obama / Sept. 2013

2103 National Student Poets  in the Poetry Room of the Library of Congress/ Sept. 2013
* Photos- David Cummings


Writing Opportunity for Young Writers:  

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers recognizes outstanding young poets and is open to high school sophomores and juniors throughout the world. The contest winner receives a full scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers workshop. In addition, the winning poem and the poems of the two runners-up will be published in The Kenyon Review, one of the country’s most widely read literary magazines.  To learn more, click here:  http://www.kenyonreview.org/contests/patricia-grodd/

Saturday, November 23, 2013

2013 National Student Poets



First Lady Michelle Obama with the 2013 National Student Poets (from left: Michaela Coplen; Sojourner Ahebee, Nathan Cummings, Louis Lafair, and Aline Dolinh) in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Sept. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.)
It has been a few months since I last posted.  It is my senior year and there are lots of demands, but I am back.  I wanted to share some great news.  I was selected this year as one of the five National Student Poets.  The other gifted poets include Michaela Coplen, Nathan Cummings, Aline Dolinh and Louis Lafair.  We were received by First Lady Michelle Obama, with our families, in the White House in late September.  Mrs. Obama is the honorary chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which is one of the sponsoring organizations of the National Student Poets Program.  To learn more about the program, its other sponsors, and the application process for becoming a National Student Poet, click here:  http://www.artandwriting.org/the-awards/national-student-poets-program/
                                                                                          
       The National Student Poets Appointment Ceremony in Washington, D.C. . Sept. 2013

The jurors this year were poets  Richard Blanco http://richard-blanco.com/ , Robert Casper( poet and  Head of Poetry and Literature Center, Library of Congress) http://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/author/roca/, Andrea Gibson  http://www.andreagibson.org/Kimiko Hahn  http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/1536 , Joy Harjo http://www.joyharjo.com/Home.html , Terrance Hayehttp://terrancehayes.com/ , David Lynn (Editor, Kenyon Review https://www.kenyonreview.org/  , Alice Quinn(  Former Poetry Editor at the New Yorker and currently  Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America  http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/about/staff/ ) and Rose Styron  (http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2013/02/23/rose-styron-poet-and-nocturnal-reader/E9WAj8dlBdMg6bF29jjyfI/story.html).  
 
The 2013 National Student Poets  at the Library of Congress

I plan, throughout the course of my year of service, as a National Student Poet to not only share with you the incredible opportunities I have had so far and will have, but to also share opportunities for young writers.   

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Broadway’s “Wicked: The Untold Story of The Witches of Oz” at The Academy of Music

Glinda and Wicked(Elphaba) visit the Emerald City!

A Review by Sojourner Ahebee

On Thursday the 27th of June I attended the hit Broadway Musical “Wicked”, which has had quite the run on stages all over the country. I’ve been wanting to see this show for quite a while, and prior to going I always thought that the basic premise of the musical was about capturing and documenting the wicked witch's(Elphaba) perspective on how events actually took place in the wonder-filled world of Oz. But after finally getting around to seeing it, I’ve realized that it’s about so much more than that.

The musical primarily focuses on the time before Dorothy makes it to Oz. We commence with Elphaba’s death, and then travel back in time with the use of flashback, as a way of revisiting Glinda and Elphaba’s childhood. The audience quickly learns of Elphaba’s unfortunate birth. Because she was born with green skin, her parents never could find the place to love her. Elphaba if forced to come to terms with this reality for the rest of her life, and her circumstance contributes to her behavior later in the story.When her sister, Nessarose, is born, though she is handicapped, Elphaba’s parents are so relieved that their second child is not green, and they make sure Elphaba is aware of their relief. Elphaba’s whole childhood is spent believing she is unsightly and worthless. From the beginning of the musical one of the major themes that define the play begins to take form upon the stage;that is the theme of self-identity and rejecting the status quo. While Elphaba receives no love from her parents, her spirit is not completely destroyed due to her sense of determination and humor. This was quite a powerful part of the narrative for me. Because I’m about to start my college search, I’m at a point in my life where I have to figure out who I am and who I want to be. I attend an arts boarding school, so I know, first hand, what it means to not fit into the box that society wants you in. So, through seeing this part of “Wicked”, it was almost like seeing all of my battles of identity on stage, up close and personal.

Soon the musical transitions. Elphaba and Nessarose find themselves at Shiz University, a co-educational university in which many of the main characters attend. It is here that Elphaba, later dubbed “Wicked”, encounters Glinda, the good witch of the south, for the first time. It is also here that the audience gets to see some of the remarkable acting come to life.  Galinda, played by the fabulous Jenn Gambatese, is brought into a whole new light, a light that was not present in the original telling of this story. Glinda comes from an affluent family, and her beauty and wealth are two of the main factors that gain her much popularity at the university. She is quite the bubbly type, with sass and pixie dust emanating from her very soul. Elphaba, played by the wonderful Laurel Harris, is a character that you grow to love throughout the play. She has an inclination to spout out dry humor, and she is one of the most candid and down to earth characters present in the narrative. Elphaba is given a lot of humanity in this musical. While Glinda and Elphaba do not take a liking to each other in the beginning, they grow a friendship that is quite unexpected.

While much of the expected school drama takes place at Shiz University, there is an underground movement going on in Oz. Many of the animals who have had important roles in the Oz community are suddenly losing their ability to speak. I feel as though this is symbolic of ones ability to fight the amoral  majority. Wicked has spent all her life as a minority, so she relates to the struggle that the animals face, especially after her professor, Doctor Dillamond( played by Clifton Davis) is fired due to the fact that he is indeed an animal with a profession that depends upon the act of speaking. Soon Wicked is summoned by the Wizard of Oz, and this is where things go awry. She discovers the Wizard’s lack of real power, and secret information concerning all the animals in Oz, and the Wizards involvement in this secret movement. She becomes disappointed and angered by this reality, and she starts to question everything she has ever believed in. It is this moment in her life in which she must make an important decision: linger in her own neutrality and ignorance, or take a stand for something that is in dire need of audacious freedom. She decides to take a stand and utilize her magic to rise against the oppressive powers of Oz.


While I don’t want to ruin the rest of the musical for you, I do want to touch on one more theme: the role of storytelling and truth. When Wicked makes her decision to go against the great powers, she puts the Wizard and his entourage in a very dangerous place. Because they don’t want to get found out, Galinda is ordered to twist the story, as a way of turning the citizens of Oz against her. This is not a musical about sides, this is a story about truth and the importance of documenting truth. This is a play about storytelling and lies. But most importantly, this is a story about not accepting the reality that is given to you. What I love about art is that it is a medium of expression that aims at doing just so:questioning reality and discovering other worlds. After seeing “Wicked” as an artist, as a writer, and as a global citizen, I was truly moved. Costumes, set design, and music was just simply fantastic! I really felt as though I had entered another world! I urge everyone to go out and support this show!

“Wicked” will be at the Academy of Music until August 4, 2013. To get specific times and dates for the performance, visit the link below!



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow; An Inspiring Exhibition Presented by The National Museum of American Jewish History



A Review by Sojourner Ahebee
Professor Ernst Borinski teaching in the Social Science Lab, Tougaloo College, Miss.




Howard Zinn  wrote “Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated ... And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” 

Albert Einstein giving a physics lecture at Lincoln University, a
historically African-American University.  At this time, Einstein was on the
staff  of Princeton University.






There were many kinds of horrific events that preceded the ultimate horror of the Holocaust.  One of these was the dismissal of Jewish academics from German universities. During the 1930’s, Hitler and the Nazi party had  gained much influence in Germany, and many Jewish professors and scholars were expelled from their educational positions at universities. Because these scholars experienced the country’s rabid hostility and rightfully feared what was to come next, they fled to the United States and hoped to find teaching positions at American universities. While well-known Jewish academics, like Albert Einstein, were hired by major universities like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, it was hard for other professors to find jobs stateside. As a result of this, many Jewish scholars found refuge and positions at Historically Black Colleges/Universities, where they discovered that the same battle they were fighting back in Germany was not too different from the struggles of African-Americans.  


The National Museum of American Jewish History hosted an exhibition entitled “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow”,  from January 15 to June 2, 2013, which highlighted the lives of some of these German scholars who found refuge and kinship at many African-American institutions and established enduring relationships with their African-American peers and students. The exhibition featured several memorable and engaging Jewish academic refugees like Ernst Borinski, George Iggers, and Lore and Donald Rasmussen who were welcomed by various African-American colleges, many of them located in the deep South ,at the height of the Jim Crow era. These intellectual powerhouses rigorously challenged their African-American students in such subjects as the Sciences,  Latin and Philosophy as well as the Arts.  These Jewish  professors not only found a safe haven at these institutions, they also found an opportunity to take an uncompromising stand against the  prevalent and insidious racism faced by African-Americans, especially in the South. 

These Jewish scholars immediately recognized the common battle they shared with African-Americans in their fight for equality and  they were moved to directly confront and challenge the mean and dehumanizing racism of the United States. They were actively involved in civil rights campaigns off campus and supported their students in public venues, even when it was illegal and dangerous to do so. Also, they were active participants in organizations like the NAACP;the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  

Viewing the photographs of these transplanted scholars and some of their personal belongings such as their letters, religious objects and even  videotaped interviews with some of these scholars was so moving and placed me right in the middle of a history that I am connected to also.  Equally compelling were the video interviews of several former African-American students who expressed both their love and joy for their beloved professors who had come so far and fleeing such horrors to arrive in a place to offer their light.  Their testimonies were so candid, heartfelt and inspiring all at once.  

Last summer I traveled France and took a course exploring the history of the lives of American expatriates in Paris. It was from this course that I discovered the non-fiction of James Baldwin. James Baldwin fled the United States at a time when the state of affairs for African-Americans was at its worst. It was in Paris that Baldwin first experienced that freeing feeling of not always being identified and received as a "Black" man, but simply as a human being. After his experience in Europe, he came to the conclusion that “the past is what makes the present coherent.” I think Baldwin’s experience is something that these Jewish refugee professors might have really related to in terms of their reception at these African-American colleges where they were not just Jewish scholars , but welcomed sources of enlightenment. 
James Baldwin in Paris


Even though this particular exhibition has closed , I highly recommend making a visit to this phenomenal  museum. It is imperative that we are aware of what has taken place before us to be able to digest and understand what is happening in the present . Through being conscious observers and analysts of history, we join the fight in eliminating the struggle between victims and executioners. Below you can find the link to the museum’s website, where you can access the museum hours, ticket rates, information on exhibitions, and the museum’s location. Stay Zen!
Museum Website:


National Museum of American Jewish History
101 South Independence Hall East
Philadelphia PA, 19106