(Anita Wright/NewsHour Extra)
By Anita Wright and Adelyn Baxter
One of this year’s National Student Poets is 16-year-old De’John Harges of Cleveland, Ohio. At a White House ceremony this week, First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated De’John and four other students from around the country on their hard work and dedication to the arts.
“This is the beginning of something phenomenal for each and every one of you,” the First Lady said. “I want you to feel empowered by it. You all can do this. You made it to this point. There is nothing you can’t do.”
De’John will spend the coming year as youth poetry ambassador, using his skill and love of poetry to lead workshops and host poetry readings in his community.
When did you start writing?
I took my very first writing course in fifth grade and I developed a passion over a few days. One of the very first practices I did was listening to music and responding to it. From then on, I went through some hardships at home that led to me using poetry as a release to basically explain what’s going on with my life at home.
Where is your favorite place to write?
The closet. Because I had a closet full of toys, I was able to climb over my toys, sit back and just write.
What does poetry mean to you?
To me, poetry is everything. Art is the key to positivity. Art is in everything. The way I see it, art is the most universal language to spread positivity.
What helped you on your way to becoming a poet?
I have a mentor, my poetry teacher. He showed us opportunities that we wouldn’t have at any other school. My very first year with him, I performed all over Cleveland. At the Negative Space Art Gallery and Studio, at the Mocha House and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After that, I told him I would love to perform at the Playhouse Square. The next year we performed there. We performed at the Rock Hall again and then we did multiple little performances at high schools. So I feel like meeting him was like the key to opening the door inside me.
What are you most excited about after becoming a poetry ambassador?
Spreading art throughout the world. Art is the key to the door of a better world.
What sort of outreach project would you like to do during your year of service?
What I plan on doing is a literary journal that is going to pull together all of the arts, from visual arts all the way to literature and photography. I’m going to bring it all together in one journal.
I’d also like to make a career center for young artists. Over the summer I had a very hard time getting a job. I put in a hundred and thirty six applications and got only one call back. After that experience, it dawned upon me that for young artists that actually have talent, it’s going to be extremely hard to show their talent and make a living. So I plan on making a career center that, even if it doesn’t earn you money at first, it still earns you recognition and a wider audience for your art. I plan on going global with it and hopefully starting a website that people can post music and videos to. So I want to bring every form of art together in this one journal. Eventually I hope there will be a way to make money for the artists as well.
Are you thinking this would be for people in your area?
I would like to start with my community in the upper east side of Cleveland. If I can reach there, I know I can reach the entire world.
What will be the name of your journal?
“Room 201.” That was where I started my pursuit to, I guess, literary glory. My actual journey started in the Cleveland School of the Arts where our poetry classroom was room 201.
Each scholar receives a $5,00 scholarship to help them pursue higher education. What are your plans after high school graduation?
I hope to go to the University of Pennsylvania. I’m going to major in psychology and then they have a writing house that I plan to get involved with.
De’John Harges is a junior at Cleveland School of the Arts.