Photo courtesy Rob Bennett for the mayor’s office
By Alex Robinson

When Ramya Ramana first started writing poetry as a child, it was just a form of escapism.

But in recent years, spoken word has become something more for the St. John’s University freshman who performed at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration. She now uses spoken word to spread a message of social justice.

“There are still a lot of people in society who are being oppressed and marginalized,” Ramana said about the poem she read at the inauguration. “I wanted to give a voice to the under-represented and highlight those people who are overlooked. They are the main population, especially in New York City.”

Ramana, who was born in Flushing and moved to Long Island when she was 3, became the city’s 2014 youth poet laureate in October when she won a slam poetry contest put on by nonprofits NYC Vote and Urban Word NYC.

“I always loved poetry. I don’t think I chose poetry. It was just what I needed,” she said. “It was just my own thing.”

She first started attending workshops with Urban Word NYC, a nonprofit that offers teens free poetry workshops, in her sophomore year of high school. Through the program’s mentorships, she discovered ways to combine her passion for activism with her love of poetry.

“Social justice has always been my passion, but I never felt knowledgeable enough to talk about it,,” she said. “But once I let go of that fear I was able to craft how I felt in my work,.”

Ramana’s performance at the new mayor’s inauguration was her first as the city’s 2014 youth poet laureate. She wrote the poem she recited especially for the day.

“It was humbling and honouring. Beforehand, I was worried about being nervous, but then when I went there, I connected with people,” she said. “It was a reminder and conviction not only of art, but of change in society and how we’re ready for that.”

She said she was overjoyed to hear the Democracy Now public radio show describe her as an activist as she had always modestly thought of herself as an “aspiring activist.”

Ramana said she is now working on a book of poetry she will write as the youth poet laureate. She is also busy setting up speaking engagements at high schools. She studies philosophy, government and politics at SJU.

When asked what words of advice she might have for young aspiring poets, she said, “Believe that our hearts and our human[ity are] far bigger than the oppression. The system can be conquered. Believe in love. God is not only watching over but is actually with us. Never let anything steal your honesty — it will heal you and others in the process.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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