Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in United States’ history, made headlines in January 2021 when she read her now-famous poem “The Hill We Climb.” Through her powerful words, she stirred feelings across the nation and brought hope to those who had been without for some time. That’s the power poetry can have and why it is so important to encourage and celebrate the written word.
April is National Poetry Month and the perfect time to recognize this timeless art form. In 1996, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to designate April as National Poetry Month, and ever since, events have been held in its honor. For example, during the month, the Academy of American Poets hosts a special celebration of poetry known as Poetry & the Creative Mind. The event features leading public figures who proudly share their favorite poems and profess their love of poetry. Some past speakers include Meryl Streep, Uma Therman, Wayne Brady, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Tina Fey and Terrance Howard.
Another public figure, philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith, may not be joining the ranks of the Academy’s speakers just yet, but that does not stop his affection for poetry. In fact, in past interviews, he has quoted some of his favorite poets, including Walt Whitman, who he believes, “helps people understand what America is about.” Over the years, he has dedicated much of his support to programs that provide artistic opportunities, including the Sphinx Organization and the Apollo Theater, which in the past has even hosted poetry grand slams.
With all of this in mind, here are a few of the organizations that Smith supports that are holding events or promoting resources in April 2021 that honor National Poetry Month.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
In November 2020, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights hosted a two-session spoken word poetry workshop titled “Writing Your Truth,” where participants were able to dive in and explore the elements of slam poetry. While Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is not hosting a poetry event in April 2021, they are doing the next best thing. The organization is hosting a songwriting competition, which simply puts poetry to music. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is inviting students from across the United States to produce original songs that take a stand against human rights abuses. The contest winner will perform their song at a GRAMMY-related event, with submissions due April 19, 2021.
Robert F. Smith currently serves on the board of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and also served as the Chairman from 2013 – 2020. Furthermore, he won the Ripple of Hope Award in 2010.
Columbia University, Smith’s alma mater, is holding an event on April 15, 2021 that ties in National Poetry Month. This virtual event discusses a collection of images, photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets, poetry and more that tells the story of African Americans. Known as “Black Futures,” the collection aims to answer, “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” The event is open to the general public, and details can be found online.
In 2015, Smith donated $15 million to Columbia, and the funds help support the university’s new Manhattanville Campus.
National Museum of African American History & Culture
In past years, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture has hosted poetry slams and other events to celebrate National Poetry Month. While no events have been released yet this year, check upcoming events for the newest information.
If no official poetry event is planned, the museum still offers a variety of poetry resources that can help anyone get into the spirit. Visit “The Power of Poetry” collection online, which offers information and resources about and from African American poets from various time periods.
Robert F. Smith is one of the top contributors to the museum. In fact, his gift of $20 million was the largest by an individual donor at the time.
Black History in 2 Minutes
While Black History in 2 Minutes may not hold any events, the series of short, lively, fact-packed stories on African American history highlight one of the most famous African American writers and poets: Maya Angelou. You can check out Angelou’s story online at any time and then read some of her work, including “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie” and “On the Pulse of Morning” during National Poetry Month.
Robert F. Smith is proudly the Executive Producer of Black History In 2 Minutes. To learn more about National Poetry Month and more events associated with the 25th-anniversary celebration, visit the National Poetry Month website.