However, in midst of such challenges there are other youth who have identified opportunities (including their talents) and utilized them for self-growth and pro-motion of peace and reconciliation to community development. Our reporter GERALD KITABU caught up with IMANI SHOLA (pictured) , a 20 year-old student at Uni-versity of Cambridge, an award winning poet who has penned the debut self-care poetry collection titled ‘Heart Shards and Lip Balm’ to help heal a hurting Britain. She has also been to Tanzania for volunteer work. Excerpts:
QUESTION: Briefly tell us about yourself:
ANSWER: My name is Imani, and I’m a 20-year-old student at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. I was born and raised in London, and I am a poet, YouTube content creator and most importantly, the author of ‘Heart Shards and Lip Balm’, which is a collection of self-care poems and affirmation aimed at healing broken hearts, which was published on July 7th and is available on Amazon.com.
Q: I am aware that you have won a number of awards; can you give us your success story?
Q: Absolutely. In 2011 I was honoured to be named a Commended Winner of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award. The Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award is the world’s largest and most prestigious award for young poets writing original works in English, attracting tens of thousands of entries from over 70 countries each year. I was selected by judges Imtiaz Dharker and Glyn Maxwell at age fourteen. It was such an honour and an incredible opportunity. I’d encourage anyone aged 11-17 who loves writing poetry to enter it!
Q: How did you develop your poetic talent?
Q: To be honest, I’ve been writing poetry from a very young age—since before I can remember! I used to write songs and poems to and for my parents, and I loved it when we got to study poetry at school in English lessons! I have always loved writing—for example, I am a big advocate of journaling as a method of self-care—so I think my love of poetry flowed out of that. I love seeing and creating patterns in language and using my language to help others in whichever way I am able to. My biggest inspirations I’d say are Carol Ann Duffy, Alexandra Elle, and the poetry and imagery in the Psalms of the Bible, which is my favourite book!
Q: We are aware that your collection poems, in ‘Heart Shards and Lip Balm’ followed the aftermath of London terrorist attack, what message did you want to send to people in Britain and worldwide?
A: There is indeed a poem in the collection which I wrote in direct response to the recent London Bridge attack, called ‘Toast’. It is a poetic response to terrorism. The attack, like every terrorist attack which takes place across the globe, broke my heart — but particularly so because it was carried out in my hometown of London. ‘Toast’ celebrates the courage and bravery of the affected families, the emergency services and the country in the face of forces of division. I wanted to encourage Britain and all those impacted by terrorism around the world that their courage and unity in the face of these tragic events was beautiful, awe-inspiring and worthy of celebration.
Q: In the midst of such a confusion, how did you gather courage to write these poems?
Q: As a poet and creative, when something moves, grieves, burdens or inspires me, I have to express that response through my art. My heart won’t let me rest until I do. The need and desire to write comes first; the courage comes later. And in all honesty, how could I not be inspired to have courage when I’m seeing such immense courage on the part of those most closely impacted by these tragic events? They inspire courage in me.
Q: How do you perceive the power of arts In promotion of peace, healing, reconciliation and social development?
Q: Art is so many things, but two things it does amazingly are inspire thought, and capture time. Art that promotes peace is one of the few things that can compete with the loudness of media saturated with news about those trying to cause division, and can shape the way people think and respond. Specifically, the poetry in Lip Balm puts words to emotions that readers may be facing, may have faced, or may face in future, such as discouragement, disappointment, lack of confidence, and heartbreak. That’s the power of poetry and writing: one person’s experience becomes a shared experience and there is so much comfort—and room for healing—in that.
Q: What distinguishes you as a youth who has taken ‘leadership’ initiative to utilize poetic talent to positively impact the world?
Q: I think what makes me different is my experience. Everyone has his or her own experiences, and my art reflects my own. Lots of things about me don’t fit the ‘trend’ — I am a black woman of Caribbean descent studying at the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s best universities, but I was raised in a single-parent family home in a poorer part of London.
There are hardly any black students at Cambridge, fewer still are black women of Caribbean descent. My experience is different, and I think it’s that which distinguishes me. And in terms of leadership, I recently read somewhere that the world rallies around those who carve paths of their own. In living out and sharing my honest, vulnerable, unique experiences in my poetry and on my platforms, people have found things in common with me and have become followers, and so I have become a leader organically.
Q: What is your commitment to serve society at large such as volunteering?
A: I love volunteering. I was in Tanzania last summer, actually, for two months, volunteering, which was an incredible experience! I’ve fallen in love with Dar Es Salaam—and I think I ate too much samaki, wali and mandazi because I love it so much! Here in the UK I volunteer at my church, and I have a youtube channel where I serve others by offering them academic and personal development advice. Aside from that, I helped set up a school a few years back, and have since been involved in societies at university focused on student welfare and international development. Serving others is such a pleasure and I find it so fulfilling and rewarding.
Q: We are aware that you recently visited Tanzania to volunteer in a project under Cambridge, can you brief us on this? What was your experience?
A: Yes! I travelled to Tanzania last July with the Cambridge Development Initiative, an amazing society created by students at Cambridge which spends two months every year in Tanzania helping promote sustainable development in the sectors of education, entrepreneurship, health and engineering. We work alongside amazing, gifted local Tanzanian students and graduates to make it happen.
I was on the Education team, and we designed the ‘Think Big Challenge’ competition to encourage students in three schools in Dar Es Salaam and at BRAC centres to think of ways to improve their surroundings. I made some amazing friends and fell in love with Tanzania. It is a beautiful country, and the people are wonderful. It was an incredible experience.
Q: What is your perception on the role of the youth in promoting and contributing to peace and social development?
A: Young people are the adults of tomorrow, so governments would do well to invest in them and to encourage them to be the best expressions of themselves. I think youth play a pivotal role in shaping a country’s future, and I’m excited to see that, in the UK at least, my generation are becoming more actively involved in political affairs—there was a huge youth turnout for the most recent elections.
Young people should feel encouraged to take a stand for what they believe in and to think of creative, sustainable ways of improving their society—and those in power should listen and invest.
Q: What is your advice to other young people on tapping and utilizing their talents in promotion of self-growth and social development?
A: My biggest tip is simply to believe in yourself. Believe in your gifts. You, reading this, have a gift that no-one else on this planet has. I don’t have it. Your mother and father and siblings don’t have it. They may not even know you have it. But only you have it, and for as long as you keep it to yourself and hidden from the world, you’re depriving the world of it—and the world needs it.
Have faith and confidence in your ideas, and don’t be discouraged by those who might not. Make a plan, seek advice, do your research and take practical steps to make your dreams come true. It won’t always be easy, but as long as you are kind, hard-working, resourceful and intuitive, you will get further than you may think. One of my favourite quotes is by Napoleon Hill and says, ‘great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness.’ I’m a firm believer in this!