Winning Essay by Bryn E. from Georgia attends Columbia University in the City of New York

Winning Essay by Bryn E. from Georgia attends Columbia University in the City of New York

Words have the power to supplant mountains and liberate bodies from institutional shackles. They can restore shattered relationships, devastate the morally unjust, and confirm that which is unbelievable. I dream of a future where my words bring forth change and rectify the centuries of hate, prejudice, and discrimination that has permeated my African American heritage. I dream of a future where America the Beautiful is seen in melanin and wide hips, versatile hair and full lips. Yet, I dream of a future where Black is not characterized by a single physical feature; it is everything and nothing all at once. I dream of being indescribable, the syllables resting on the tip of a tongue that you simply can’t distinguish.

As a young girl, Audre Lorde shared these same dreams and appreciated the power of poetry as a form of expression. Born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants in 1934, Lorde grew up hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies. She soon learned to talk, read, and later write, authoring her first poem in the eighth grade. As she began writing her own poetry, she became a voice for the “outcasts” at her high school, and she continued to do this throughout her professional career – becoming an advocate for African Americans, women, and the LGBTQ spectrum.

After graduating from Columbia University, Audre Lorde started a visiting professorship at the Free University in Berlin in 1984. Lorde significantly impacted the women there and she helped coin the term Afro-German, catalyzing a social movement. Lorde chose to fight systemic oppression with language, a weapon she believed was a powerful form of resistance, and she encouraged the women of Germany to fight back by speaking up.

Lorde’s multifaceted writing reflects her many layers of selfhood. She considered herself a "lesbian, mother, warrior, poet" and used poetry to portray and advocate for these intertwined identities. The release of Coal, an infamous collection of her poetry, established Lorde as an influential voice in the Black Art Movement. She served as poet laureate of New York in 1991, and her legacy continues even after her death in 1992. In an African naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".

Like Audre Lorde, I dream of my writing breaking racial barriers and deconstructing the status quo. I dream of equity teeming far and wide and becoming one of the revolutionaries who make that dream a reality. But most of all, I dream of providing a voice for the “outcasts”, deconstructing discriminatory systems, and making my meaning known. Now a freshman at Columbia University, I have become a founding member of AUDRE*, a program that survives the mission of its namesake by providing an after-school program for Harlem elementary school students, introducing them to the ideas of intersectionality, Afrofuturism, activism, and self-expression. Beginning my sophomore year, I will co-lead the organization and inspire other individuals to dream, just as Audre Lorde has inspired me.


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