Meet this year’s Youth Poet Laureate, whose writing puts a spotlight on social justice and personal growth

Photo above, clockwise from top center: Rho Bloom-Wang, Emily Tea, Aja Lynn, Audrey Alling and Jade Davis.

To be considered as a candidate for the annual City of Asylum Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, teens must demonstrate a lot more than excellent writing skills. Part of the expectation is a passion for community involvement and engagement in social justice causes.

Rho Bloom-Wang certainly fits the bill as this year’s Youth Poet Laureate. The 16-year-old student at Winchester Thurston School is a writer and activist who cares deeply about social and environmental justice. Rho, who uses they/them pronouns, recently co-organized a national event protesting anti-trans legislation by highlighting transgender art, writing and the very existence of trans people. They collaborated on other issue-oriented projects, too, focusing on criminal justice, air quality and gender-based inequities in athletics.

“Rho is very cool and obviously well-spoken,” says Cyd Johnson, Community Engagement & Education Coordinator at City of Asylum. “They bring a lot of cool ideas to the table. And they’re very engaged.”

Rho’s writing resume is impressive for such a young person. Rho is an editor for Starry False Lily through Write Pittsburgh and Plaid Magazine. They were a winner of the Oakland Sidewalk Poetry Contest and the recipient of a Gold Medal from the Alliance for Art and Writing. Rho’s work also appears in The Lumiere Review, Qummunity’s Revive and Saturday Light Brigade.

Rho believes literary art is essential for both individual growth and interpersonal change. That kind of growth and change is explored in their poem “When I Grow Up.”

The Allegheny County Youth Poet Laureate receives a $500 prize, artistic support and paid performance opportunities throughout their one-year term, along with publication in the National Youth Poet Laureate anthology and entry into the National Youth Poet Laureate competition.

Four additional teens take on the role of Youth Poet Ambassadors and are an impressive group of kids, too.

“They do amazing things,” Johnson says. “They’re all so accomplished and they’ve done so many cool things. They’re really interested in learning more about social justice issues and environmental issues.”

Throughout the year, the Youth Poet Laureate and the Poet Ambassadors take part in public readings of their work. Plans are being made to do school visits and run workshops with other teens and middle school kids, as well. Other ideas of community involvement are germinating – like an outdoor public art project.

This year’s Youth Ambassadors roster features:

Emily Tea: The Winchester Thurston School student’s love of writing has recently turned to poetry. She has learned that writing takes time and that it’s not always going to be perfect. But, she says, once you realize that, you begin to write wonderful pieces. Read Emily’s poem “Yellow.”

Aja Lynn: The Hampton High School senior is excited to participate in her second year as a Youth Poet Ambassador. She has always loved writing but recognizes spoken-word poetry as her preferred way to navigate her thoughts. Read Aja’s poem “With Only a Word.”

Jade Davis: Jade is a poet and an activist working on issues like climate change, environmental racism, homophobia and transphobia. The award-winning poet founded and leads Vibrant Shades, an LGBTQIA+ club at her school, Lincoln Park. Jade also enjoys volunteering at Woodville, a local historic landmark. Read Jade’s poem “August Poem.”

Audrey Alling: The Hampton High School senior says spoken-word poetry has made an impact on her life, inspiring her to expand her involvement in theater. She and her friend Aja Lynn created a club dedicated to providing students with a safe space to showcase art of all forms for the community. Aside from writing, Audrey partakes in other forms of art, such as ceramics and mixed media. Read Audrey’s poem “The Comfort of Loss.”