The Young Scholars of Liberia (YLS) on July 23, 2019 certificated over 20 young writers, who successfully completed training during several weeks of a master series workshop organized by acclaimed poet, professor of creative writing and founder of YLS, Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.
The ceremony, held in the Blue Room of the Stella Maris Polytechnic campus, welcomed outstanding Liberian educators and writers, Sister Mary Laurene Browne, President of the Stella Maris Polytechnic and Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper.
Out of 14 scholars, who submitted their poems, three emerged as winners for the 2019 Young Scholars of Liberia Poetry Prize.
The winning poems, according to Dr. Wesley, were selected based on a criteria setup by international judges.
“What the judges were looking for in each poem were, a poem that explores the Liberian experience with poetic sensibility; a poem that uses fresh imagery that are Liberian; authenticity (explores the true heart of a writer); a poem that makes us feel or relate to its art, and craft the way a good poem should be and a poem that shows growth of a promise in the writer,” she said.
The first place winner, Jee-Won M. E. Arkoi, clinched the prize of US$300, which goes towards her semester tuition. Her poem, “Becoming Strangers,” won the competition. “My Home” by Kerry Adamah Kennedy, second placer with a prize of US$100, while the third prize winner, Tetee Alexandra Bonar’s poem, “War Lived Here,” won herself US$50.
Kulah K. Washington and Janetta Konah, first and second runners-up were each given a copy of onf of Dr. Wesley’s books.
Some of the participants from the training stormed the stage with enthralling poems that had the audience snipping their thumbs and middle fingers as a motivation to the readers.
Dr. Wesley said YLS began in the United States under the name, “Friends of Young Scholars Liberia.”
“We’ve held series of workshops in America with young people and poor black children, because my idea works with the American students, so I thought to apply that process back to Liberia,” she said.
Dr. Wesley read one of the poems, “One of these Days,” which she said was published in 1998, and also her first book of poetry, which has been in print for 21 years. “This poem was written during the Liberian civil crisis (1989-2003), and I wrote it in a way to encourage myself that “One of these days, we will be dancing in the streets of Monrovia with our feet covering the potholes.”
According to her, YLS is not just about writing, but mentorship and scholarship; helping young people in the days of all kinds of negative distractions.
“Our ultimate hope is to produce the young scholars of Liberia anthology, because we want a book that other Africans will read and say, we have talents in Liberia. By October this year, we’ll be submitting 10-20 poems written by the young Liberian scholars for the 2019 African Poetry Prize,” she added.
Mr. Best, who served as the keynote speaker, described the event as a “historic and beautiful setting;” adding that in 1960, he too, was a “Cuttington Poet” at the Cuttington University.
He lectured on the “Importance of Writing,” in which he challenged Liberians to start writing.
“I am hoping that you all write books of poetry, novels, short stories and history,” Best told the young writers.
“I am happy that Dr. Wesley has launched you in this workshop as a parachute on the path of writing poetry so tomorrow you would be like Bai T. Moore, Dr. Wesley and many others,” he said.
Mr. Best then challenged the young writers to continue writing, which he said is the only appreciation they can show Dr. Wesley for all the training and knowledge she has imparted to them.
He thanked God for providing Liberia with two outstanding women Maryland County has produced — Sis. Laurene and Dr. Wesley — who he described as “great educators of our time”.
“These women have made indelible marks in history by educating writers”, he said.
Sis. Mary Laurene Browne encouraged the young writers to develop interest in writing, which is their God-given talent as not many people would want to become teachers, “because there is no money in the profession.
“Some may not set out to be professional writers, but your attitude, with gratitude, you have no idea where it will lead,” she said.
Before naming the program YLS, Dr. Wesley said she voluntarily taught at different workshops in Liberia. She recorded a workshop in 2013 on creative writing that included Liberian writers/poets, journalists and the musical duo, Zack and Geebah. “After this period, I was seeing no results, so I diverted my focus to the young people, because the older ones already think they are writers and they’ve arrived,” she said.
One of the mentees, Aaron Ireland, applauded Dr. Wesley her for helping them improve their writings and believing in them. “It is a privilege to have her. Thanks for believing in us. Things have been different since we began working with you,” Ireland said.
“Thanks to our Mother and Sister Patricia who took her vacation down here doing all these great things for our children”, said Mr. Augustine S. Arkoi, Founder of New Hope Academy.
He assured Dr. Wesley of his commitment and partnership because of the work she is doing to place Liberia on the world map. Mr. Arkoi also suggested that Dr. Wesley create programs that will institutionalize the initiative.
The YSL is a registered organization that was founded in 2016 with the intent of mentoring girls only. But male volunteers began filling the space and their hunger for writing sparked. “We felt it was unfair to have an organization that targeted only women, so we later decided that it will be for everybody”, she told the audience.
Over 24 participants were mentored during the 2018 workshop. This year, “we went to Cape Palmas where we recruited 20 enthusiastic participants and 40 from the New Hope Academy,” Dr. Wesley said.