PORTLAND — Belise Nishimwe, a Portland high school student, wants to represent more than the state of Oregon at the National Poetry Out Loud competition this April.
A sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy, Belise Nishimwe spent the first five years of her life in a refugee camp in Tanzania before her family moved to Oregon through a Catholic Charities program. Now she hopes to be a voice for immigrants and refugees around the world.
“Sometimes it’s hard to talk about the issues that I’ve had, but I do think it’s important,” said Nishimwe. “I want to see a powerful person who has been through my experiences overcome them. I thought this would be a great way to be it—not just see it.”
Students memorize and present poems, practicing public performance skills while exploring the complexity of poetry and spoken word.
Nishimwe chose to honor poets who embodied her own beliefs, whose words resonated with her experiences.
“[The poem] ‘If we must die’ by Claude Mckay and ‘Worth’ by Marilyn Nelson are very strong vocally, and are about Black activism,” said Nishimwe.
She continued, “Both of those poets were very vocal about their beliefs and I thought that went well with me. I love to speak my truth and be an advocate for change.”
Now a U.S. citizen, Belise has dedicated herself to being someone who can create a platform that gives voice to immigrants and refugees and the representation they need.
“I know how important education is because my parents didn’t get those opportunities. So I want to use what I have been given to pay it forward,” she said. “I really want to be a lawyer, maybe an immigration lawyer. Seeing immigrants and refugees be taken advantage of, I want to be that protection for them.”
Nishimwe will compete at the 2019 National Finals from April 30 to May 1 at The George Washington University.
“This is everyone’s victory,” said Nishimwe. “I want to represent refugees and immigrants in a good light. I wanted to do Poetry Out Loud because when I was younger I wanted that representation that I rarely ever saw. I wanted to see other immigrants like me participate in a variety of activities and succeed, so that I could know that I could achieve that too.”