Teen poet from LA uses spoken word to ignite change and transform communities

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Friday, August 12, 2022
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Sierra Leone Anderson has a bright smile and an infectious laugh. The 15-year-old describes herself as a scholar, determined, loving, and honest, as evidenced in her poem titled "For Uvalde."

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Sierra Leone Anderson has a bright smile and an infectious laugh.

The 15-year-old describes herself as a scholar, determined, loving, and honest, as evidenced in her poem titled "For Uvalde."

She dedicates the poem to the families and communities in Uvalde, impacted by the murder of 19 children and two teachers, and all victims of gun violence.

"If anyone reads this poem, whether they're youth, or they're an educator, whether they're not, I really want them to be afraid," said Anderson. "I really want them to be scared of how kids are living now, of how we've lived for a very long time. And then I want them to actually do something about it."

She began writing poetry at about age 12 when her teacher implemented the Get Lit Words Ignite curriculum.

"Something charged in my body, and I just knew like, 'Oh, this is something I'm gonna do for a long time,'" she said.

Get Lit is a nonprofit organization that brings literature, spoken word poetry and visual media to students.

Anderson now helps teach poetry to other students through Get Lit's Uni(Verse) virtual platform.

The organization and Anderson's community shapes her art.

"When I write about issues, I think about that; I experience this one thing, but what's behind it? What are the layers to peel back? That's something my mother taught me, that everybody, every situation everything has layers and roots," she said.

She loves telling stories, including the one behind her first name.

"I'm named after a country in West Africa, and Sierra Leone was a place that freed enslaved Africans went to take refuge," she said. "They wanted me to have a spirit of rebellion and to really be rooted in freedom and to be a freedom fighter."

The daughter and poet is also a community organizer. She is part of Students Deserve L.A.

"We've done a lot of things in the past, but right now we're focusing on fully defunding L.A. school police and reinvesting the money into support and services for Black youth," she said.

Anderson said she is not a special person, but got opportunities through Students Deserve and Get Lit.

"Success largely has to do with not talent or passion, but really the opportunities that come your way," she points out. "I'm really, really blessed that I was able to get those opportunities from God."

Opportunities she wants all children to have.

"Especially our inner-city schools, our low-income schools, schools with the highest majority of Black and Latino students," she said. "Have an opportunity to at least experience poetry and filmmaking."