Read an interview with Andre’a ’18, a self-described Gesu “lifer.” Here, she details how Gesu inspired her writing and cultivated soft skills in motivation and grit. The new Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate reflects on her hopes for the future—for teens, for the city of Philadelphia, and for her own growth and professional success. See news coverage on Andre’a’s achievement as Philadelphia’s Youth Poet Laureate.
On Gesu: Developing as a Writer and a Leader
You took Gesu’s advanced writing classes in 7th and 8th grade. What did you enjoy about the writing classes? Did you feel challenged?
Advanced writing taught me about different types of poems like sonnets and haikus, and it showed me poetry isn’t always about rhyming words. I did feel challenged for my first couple of classes. After a while, I got into the swing of things and I felt like a true artist.
When you arrived in high school at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, did you feel prepared for the writing and research? How so?
Yes, I felt very prepared for the writing and research at Little Flower. I felt prepared for the life of high school because of Gesu. Teachers like Mrs. Pickett, Mrs. Randa, Mrs. Ryder, and the entire staff and village of Gesu raised me and built me to overcome challenges and obstacles.
What else from your time at Gesu may have led you to this moment or helped you prepare for this achievement as Philadelphia’s Youth Poet Laureate? What words of advice or encouragement would you have for Gesu students?
Gesu taught me to believe in myself and that dreams come true when you work hard for them. Gesu is part of the reason I received this achievement because they showed me that nothing is too big for me, and that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. Seeing so many alumni do amazing things and come back and tell their stories made me want to be like them.
To the current Gesu students and all those after them, and even to the alumni, keep dreaming and keep believing. When things get hard, don’t give up. God knows your place on this Earth and everyone has a story to tell, even you. Continue to use your gifts, and raise your voices. Don’t let anyone silence you. I’ve been where you are, I’ve worn your uniforms, I’ve walked the same hallways as you, and I’ve sat in the same classrooms and chairs. I am living proof that dreams come true. You can do anything and be anything as long as you have faith and believe. Also continue to have navy blue, white, and gray running through your veins because Gesu will always be your family no matter what.
You were a student at Gesu when the MAGIS soft skills curriculum was created (Motivation, Awareness, Grit, Independence, Social Competence). What do you think about it? Did it help you grow in certain ways? If so, how?
I thought that this was a great addition to Gesu along with No Place for Hate (partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to promote DEI and respect for all). Every student at Gesu followed the idea of MAGIS and made it their own. Religion class is where we learned about this the most with Mr. de Santos by our side. We did projects and had class discussions about what it means to us. MAGIS helped me grow because it kept me motivated and determined, and made me aware of my goals and how I should do everything to see them through. And, it helped me to work with others from all backgrounds.
What other Gesu classes and experiences did you enjoy? For example, Gesu Gospel Choir, sports, clubs, service, and why? How did these experiences help form the person you are today?
When it comes to Gesu, my name rings a lot of bells. I was known because I was always a part of something. I participated in tennis and soccer for a short period of time. But everyone knows I’ve been playing basketball and running track at Gesu since 5th grade. I’ve been in Gesu’s choir since 5th grade. I loved it so much that I am pushing for an alumni choir. I was also a part of the student council, taking on the roles of treasurer and secretary. I helped plan a few dances at Gesu, and participated in community projects through student council, like giving back to the homeless and bringing in canned goods. I was a part of the theatre program as well. I am now currently serving on Gesu’s alumni council for the high school students.
I also enjoyed religion class and English the most. Coming from a religious background and having a love for reading and writing, these classes came easy to me. Every teacher at Gesu made learning fun and helped everyone as a whole. Not only were we given lessons for school subjects, but also lessons for life. These experiences helped shape me to be the person I am today because they helped me learn time management, balance, and responsibility. It also taught me to be more involved with others, and to learn that there is no “I” in team.
On Her Aspirations as Youth Poet Laureate
How do you hope to use the role as Youth Poet Laureate to share your voice on a wider platform? How do you think you can reach other teens, and why is that important?
I hope to use my role as Youth Poet Laureate to empower, inspire, teach, and motivate. I think I can reach other teens by talking about current events and issues. Also by speaking and writing on topics that they can relate to. I want to be an advocate or a bridge between the adults and the youth. Adults don’t always understand what the youth goes through in times like these and vice versa, so I hope that my work can shine a light on both sides of this. This is important because we all need to come together no matter the age, race, gender, or sexuality. We need to uplift each other.
What are your hopes for the city of Philadelphia?
For the city of Philadelphia, I hope that my words can touch at least one person. That the city can hear or read what I say and believe that there is hope for our city’s future. I hope that I can again inspire and empower, and to make my mark.
On Writing: Influences, Themes, and Process
What writers have influenced you in particular? You’ve spoken of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson. Why those writers? Any others you’re interested in?
Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou influence me particularly. I like all three of them because their work is so real and raw. Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou went through obstacles including racism and just general problems with the world, but they didn’t let that stop them. Langston Hughes was a part of the Harlem Renaissance where Black artists and influencers thrived despite the issues with race. I learned about this in 8th grade in Mrs. Pickett’s class. We had to do a project about the Harlem Renaissance, and I included a poem by Langston Hughes titled “Tired.”
I like Emily Dickinson because in my opinion she was a hidden gem. I learned about her and read some of her poems in my junior year of high school. A poem of hers that I like the most is titled “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” It had so many hidden messages, and I realized all of them instantly. Her work wasn’t discovered until she died, and her family got her poems published. For me this just speaks volumes, and her work does, too. She makes her readers think outside-the-box because her work can be interpreted in more than one way.
What themes does your poetry explore?
My poetry explores themes of love, racism, pain, gun violence, Black Lives Matter, and faith. I also talk about things that teens go through living in the 21st century. I even write about events I have seen or went through personally.
How would you describe your writing process? Do you write many drafts of each poem?
I am asked this question all the time, and people are surprised to hear that I don’t exactly have a writing process. I do not write any drafts of my poems either. I keep them all on my IPhone under my notes. There are times where I can write for hours and can’t pull myself away from my work. It often feels like I’m on another planet, and it’s hard to snap back into reality. Then there are other times where I have writer's block and I need to take a little break. For the most part, I write for hours and I produce about four poems a day sometimes.
On the Future
Part of the role as Youth Poet Laureate is an apprenticeship with Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson. What do you hope to learn from this experience?
I hope to improve my writing and to gain a better understanding on how I can use this position to help my community.
What are your career ambitions?
For my future careers, I want to be an author, director, and screenwriter. I also want to try to start my own businesses and create a few inventions. My mind is continuously working and flowing. I believe that one occupation isn’t enough for me and that the world needs more creativity from women’s point of view, especially from an African American background.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I am trying to start my future career path early. I have written two books already and I am working on a third one. I am also working to publish my first poetry book called In the Hive. This book depicts the hardships and issues that teens in this age experience. I want the world to know that I have a fire inside of me that won’t die, and I will continue to spread my talents around the world.