Arts & Culture

Richmond student wins B.C. poetry contest

By Hannah Scott

Published 11:42 PDT, Thu May 26, 2022

Last Updated: 12:38 PDT, Fri June 10, 2022

Sixteen-year-old Maryam Abusamak, a Grade 11 student at EBUS Academy, is one of three winners in B.C.’s Democracy & Me poetry contest.

The contest invited students to reflect on the importance of community, civic engagement, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and democracy. Each grade category was provided with a unique contest question to help guide the creation of original written and spoken-word poetry.

Abusamak says she was motivated to apply because of her love of writing.

“Since the time I was able to spell the word ‘apple,’ I've always liked putting pen to paper to convey my ideas or construct new worlds and experiences far beyond my own,” she says. “Even though I didn't realize it as a child, I remember gravitating toward writing clubs in elementary school and how much I enjoyed composing stories, savouring how words kept flowing from my pencil to unravel a story no one had ever heard before. Many of my English teachers used my writing as models for my classmates as I shrunk down in my chair in embarrassment.”

She saw the poetry contest as “a perfect opportunity to raise my voice and make a difference through words.”

Abusamak’s winning poem is titled “My Weapon,” and she explains that the phrase “my voice is a weapon” is inspired by the Angie Thomas novel The Hate U Give. The novel’s protagonist publicly protests after her friend is killed by a police officer, and that phrase represents a turning point in her character development.

“The repetition of the phrase ‘my voice is my weapon’ emphasizes a point and creates rhythm. Much as I was completely inspired after reading The Hate U Give, I want readers to be uplifted and touched after reading my poem,” says Abusamak. “I want readers to realize that democracy is the freedom for each one of us to have different views while realizing that there is beauty and strength in diversity. Above all, it's the power to use your voice as a weapon to influence change in the world.”

When she learned she was a contest winner, Abusamak was delighted. 

“The very moment I left ICBC after failing the driving knowledge exam for the first time, my mom informed me that I was a winner. Such perfect timing—my disappointment immediately turned into joy,” she says.

In late April, Abusamak was formally awarded her prize, and her poem was unveiled in a ceremony at B.C.’s Parliament Buildings in Victoria. She says it was “magnificent and unforgettable beyond words” to be recognized as a winner.

“I had the impression that someone like me could make a difference. All you really need is your weapon, (and) we all have one: our voices,” says Abusamak. “I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who contributed to the event, making it a memorable success.”

The winning poems, finalists, and all eligible entries are viewable on the contest website: democracyandme.ca

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