By Hayley Crandall
At just 15-years-old, Isabella Hanson has already made waves in her community and beyond.
The Pennsylvania teen activist is a youth co-founder of the National Youth Foundation and active member of her high school’s Diversity Club and Model United Nations. Last year, she played a vital role in getting a home that was utilized in the Underground Railroad nationally recognized.
Part of Hanson’s activism passion lies within the poetry contest she created. And it’s that very contest that has gained the nation’s attention.
Hanson’s “I Matter” poetry and art contest, launched by a grant from Gucci, works to give students K-12 a chance to express their feelings about the civil and human rights unrest occurring throughout America.
“I really used poetry as my way to, like, express my thought about all of that,” Hanson said. “And then I was thinking maybe other kids use poetry or art this way, too.”
“I Matter” 2020 received student entries from 26 different states, an impressive feat for her first the contest’s first year.
Hanson is now currently seeking submissions for “I Matter” 2021 with hopes of pulling works from all 50 states.
The contest was inspired by the emotional state Hanson saw the country in last year. As someone who uses poetry to process her feelings, Hanson hoped others could benefit from doing the same.
“When I was back in quarantine and I needed a way to express myself, a contest like this would’ve been good for me,” Hanson said. “So, I’m hoping other people are feeling that way, too.”
Hanson had to do some maneuvering to get the initial word out, which involved taking on a direct approach by reaching out to teachers across the country. This time around, she’s been doing more articles and has even traveled to various places to personally hand out flyers in the hope of directly encouraging expression from people in tough situations.
“Me, my mom, my dad and a friend went to Columbus, Ohio where Andre Hill was killed and we handed out flyers because people there are definitely feeling strongly about that so poetry can be a way to express that,” she said.
Already Hanson’s achievements have received her recognition on high levels. In 2020, she landed a spot on the Nick/Time’s Kids of the Year list. She also received recognition from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and accolades from Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan.
“All this recognition is definitely something I didn’t expect,” Hanson said.
This contest has been a big focus for Hanson, and she hopes to continue with her poetry in the future. Although she expressed interest in business route as a future career, poetry is a part of her that she wants to keep close.
“I want to try to be a Black woman that is running a big company,” Hanson said. “And I’m also probably going to minor in poetry because that’s important to me, so I want to keep that in my life.”
Those interested in submitting work for the “I Matter” 2021 poetry and art contest can do so at http://www.nationalyouthfoundation.org/i-matter/. Entries are accepted until July 23 and must be about the topic “Black Lives Matter.” Full entry guidelines are outlined on the submission page.