2020: A Poem from Oakland's Youth Poet Laureate, Greer Nakadegawa-Lee

Listen to Greer Nakadegawa-Lee perform her poem, "2020", and find a printable version of her inspiring words.

Sixteen-year-old Greer Nakadegawa-Lee is Oakland's 2020 Youth Poet Laureate. When she was announced as the new Laureate on June 5th, she performed, live, a poem she had written the day before.

In her own words:

In the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic and the much needed resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I often found myself thinking about the awful ways these events converged.

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were tragedies that exposed the corruption inherent in the very structures of policing in America. (At least, that's what they exposed for people who's daily realities don't already include fear of police brutality.) In a lot of ways, the response to these deaths was truly moving. Americans in every state marched in solidarity. Floyd's murderers were eventually charged in an all too rare act of justice. Schools across the country passed resolutions to get police out of schools, including my high school (thanks to the work of the Black Organizing Project).

And yet the coronavirus still hung over all of it. It kept people away from protests out of fear. It made the tear gas police fired at peaceful protesters even more threatening. It made it harder for people to find solidarity at a time when we need it the most; at a time when we wanted to help each other, at a time when we needed change.

I wrote this poem because I wanted to make sure that if I was going to represent Oakland in any way, I wanted to talk about things that are relevant to the people who live here. I wanted to send a message that our government's responses to the epidemics of COVID-19 and police brutality have been at best inadequate and at worst abusive. And I wanted to remind people that even though things seem hopeless, even when we have to be physically separated, we can still show solidarity and look out for one another. We still have the power to change what our future looks like.

Find a PDF of Greer's poem here.

See Greer's performance here:

Greer, who is going into her junior year at Oakland Technical High School, will represent the Oakland community through poetry, media, and public appearances. She was also a Finalist for the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate in 2019 and has already had the opportunity to speak and perform at numerous events. Her first chapbook, "A Heart Full of Hallways," was published in 2020 with Nomadic Press.

If you would like to book Greer or any of the other 2020 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Finalists, please do so here: http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/yplbooking

Oakland poets between the ages of 13 and 18 can join the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate community by applying with three poems in early 2021.