Isabella Hanson received her first Pollination Project grant for her work which focused on empowering girls when she was only nine-years-old. Then in 2020, at the age of 14, Isabella once again looked to empower and amplify the voices of youth, only this time it was with the creation of “I Matter”, an international poetry and art competition focused on why Black Lives Matter. With over 650 submissions from 42 US states and 30+ countries, the competition was a tremendous success. Now, at 16, despite the fact that Isabella’s promotions are often blocked on social media, she’s determined to grow the competition in the hopes of uplifting the voices of even more youth.
Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Isabella was at a loss for how to talk about her thoughts and feelings. While her mom had initially introduced her to poetry when they saw Elizabeth Acervedo at the Brooklyn Museum, Isabella had been learning about poetry in school and thought it might be a great outlet for her. As she found solace in her writing, she knew there had to be others who were feeling the way she was and so, she decided to create a platform for youth to share their voices with the world.
Knowing that some might prefer to express themselves through art as opposed to poetry, Isabella incorporated both into the initial competition. She read every poem and looked at every piece of art that was submitted – a testament to her belief that everyone deserves to be seen and heard. In the book she created aptly titled, “I Matter”, she takes a thoughtful approach to how she lays out the work – art and poetry on corresponding pages, one complimenting the other, like old friends. During the second year of the competition, she invited the winners from the previous year to help choose the current winner.
Today, the biggest obstacle that Isabella faces has to do with promotion of her competition. While she shares flyers with people, the social media channels – Twitter and Instagram – repeatedly block her ads. Undeterred, Isabella continues to move forward by creating a grassroots outreach campaign that includes sending emails to those in the states she has yet to reach and asking people from all walks of life to spread the word.
This journey has been filled with many unforgettable moments, including being a Time Magazine/Nickelodeon “Kid of the Year” nominee. However, often the greatest moments occur during Isabella’s workshops. One such moment happened during her “100 Black Men” workshop with a young boy who was known for not paying attention. From her warm, inviting delivery to the feel good vibes she leaves behind, everyone from middle schoolers to high schoolers thoroughly enjoy her workshops. So, it was no surprise that this boy was not only engaged in learning the moment it began, he hugged her when it was over.
Isabella is an amazing poet and leader whose perseverance, compassion and creativity is inspiring youth around the world.
“I hope to reach all 50 states, maybe have up to 1000 entries this time and create more positive change,” Isabella stated.
To all the students who dream of having your voice be heard, let this invitation to express what’s in your heart inspire you to action. To all the parents and educators, you are invited to use this invitation as a way to encourage others to lift their voices. To all the changemakers, let this young woman inspire you to keep building your dream, despite any obstacles you may face, as you serve communities near and far.
This International competition is open to students in grades K-12 who would like to submit poetry and art on the theme of social justice. The judges – Rob Covington of the NBA, Malcolm Jenkins of the NFL, Little League superstar Mo’ne Davis and “I Matter” Founder Isabella Hanson – will choose ten finalists who will win $100. The award for the top poet will be $500. All winners will have the incredible opportunity to have their work included in the 2022 “I Matter” book.
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