Getting to know Jessica Howard

Jessica on her victory in Poetry Out Loud, involvement in Black Student Union and acceptance to NYU

Rose Dunn, Staff Writer

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The interview was originally supposed to just be about Poetry Out Loud, but as the interview went on, I realized that there was so much more Howard was involved in, and I wanted people to know about it.


Q: What is poetry aloud and how does it work?

A: Poetry aloud is a poetry competition and what you do is memorize a poem. You’re given a list of poems you can do on a website. Following that there is a printed anthology I have never seen, but it is the stuff of legends, it exist, but no one knows about it . So, you pick a poem and perform it in front of judges and they make sure that everything is accurate then they choose someone and you move on.


Q: I know that you’ve been a very active participant in the school’s theater program in the past. Do you feel like your previous acting experience and Poetry Out Loud are similar in a way?

A: Yeah, definitely there is a lot of preparation you have to do, and I sing too, so with all the stuff that has to do with words and communicating a story to an audience, there is a lot of preparation that goes into it, and making sure that your interpretation is one that your audience is able to connect with because if not that’s how you don’t win things[competitions].


Q: Is there a theme or category in which you select poems and do you get to pick the poems you perform?

A: Yes, we do get to pick our poems. I don’t know how everyone else did it, but I personally was very interested in finding poems by black poets that talked about anything. They didn’t have to be about a struggle or whatever. It’s more about the whole I’m proud of my heritage thing and I want to celebrate the achievements of black people. So, that lead to me choosing  “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes which is one of my favorite poems. I think it’s very relevant and very important so that’s part of the reason why I chose it. Plus it’s very short and makes a big impact in 18 lines. Then, the other one I chose was “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, and that is the black national anthem. We sing it all the time in churches, but you don’t realize what you’re saying when you’re singing the words. It’s kind of like you pick up some rap song and look up the lyrics and then the next thing you know you’re like “ yo, that’s what they’re saying?”, it’s the same concept. The poem is radically different from each stanza. The first stanzas is like we’re about rejoicing and how were happy because we’ve come a long way, but then the second stanza is about how we’ve tread our path through the blood of the slaughtered, and we’ve come over a way that with tears has been watered. It’s all this sorrow, and the third verse is giving thanks to god. It’s kind of incoherent, but at the same time a very good map of how far African-Americans have come in the four hundred years we’ve been here, so that is why I felt very drawn to “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Besides that, I already knew it, which made it a lot easier to memorize.


Q: How are you preparing for states and what poems will you performing ?

A: Well, first we have to add a poem that was written before the 20th century. All of them have words like “tho, thee, thou” and that is very intimidating to me, so right now we are just shifting through and seeing what one is the least offensive, but I think I found one I like. I will be doing the same two poems, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”,  “I, Too Sing America” and another poem and hope to make it to the 3rd round at states.


Q: What else are you a part of this year?

A: I am president of the Black Student Union and tonight, Friday February 17th we are hosting our first event which I am very excited about. Its called Soul Food , and Food for the Soul. The Black Student Union is where I put a lot of my energy this year.


Q: What is your goal for the club?

A: My initial goal for the club and reason for forming the Black Student Union is because I feel like right now there is a huge stereotype with black people, middle eastern people, latino people, there’s this huge, huge wave of cultural pride and identifying within who you are, and I think that is wonderful, so I thought it would be great if we would able to band together and show how proud we are to be black because there is so much we should be proud of within our culture, within our history. We had a black man in the white house for eight years and we had Supreme Court justices, congress, and people doing big things in the arts so there is just so much to be celebrated and that’s something I wanted to celebrate with the black student union, but I also wanted to dispel stereotypes. Even now there’s this huge thing where we are seen as not hardworking and not focused on school and that is SUCH a lie because every single person that is in the Black Student Union’s number 1 focus right now is college, trying to keep their grades up and trying to make sure that everything is going well for them so they can stay afloat.


Q: You got into NYU, what did you get in for?

A: I got into the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and only 60 people get in each year. It’s hugely competitive so I am still confused as to how I got in, but I am extremely excited. There is so much that I can do, especially in New York within my interest with people of color and trying to be a voice for the voiceless. New York is the best place to do that. I visited over the summer and I loved the professors and everything that they stand for. They are working with these really big-named people. Sometimes for example Questlove will come and be a professor. Clive Davis, Whitney Houston’s manager (at the time), who the institute is for, his daughter is one of the professors for law there and she is wonderful. All those things mixed together, along with its great reputation, and competitiveness is how I knew that (NYU) was my school.

Submitted by Rock Ridge High School Twitter
Poetry Out Loud, state’s nominee Jessica Howard, poses for a quick photograph holding the ticket that validates her spot at the Poetry Out Loud state competition coming up on Saturday, March 4th at the Broadway Center For Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Hoping that she makes it through all three rounds at states, will then ensure her next ticket to nationals in April.

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Getting to know Jessica Howard