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Belise Nishimwe, a sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, is the 2019 Oregon Poetry Out Loud state champion, according to a news release. Nishimwe was one of nine regional finalists, including Bonanza High School’s Megan Southard, who competed at Saturday’s state Poetry Out Loud contest at Salem Public Library. Nishimwe advances to the national Poetry Out Loud competition April 29-May 1 in Washington, D.C.

Nicole Coronado, a senior at Lakeridge High School, was named runner up. If Nishimwe is unable to attend the national competition Coronado would be invited to represent Oregon.

Extremely passionate about social justice and law especially as it pertains to immigrants and their rights, Nishimwe was born and lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania until the age of 5, when she and her family moved to America through Catholic Charities. Now a U.S. citizen, she has dedicated herself to being someone who can create a platform that gives voice to immigrants and refugees and the representation they need.

“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.”

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest for high school students, organized in Oregon by the Oregon Arts Commission in collaboration with the NEA and the Poetry Foundation. Participants memorize and present poems, practicing public speaking skills while exploring the complexity of poetry.

The poems Nishimwe presented at the state contest were: “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley; “If We Must Die,” by Claude McKay; and “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson.

“When I listened to Belise deliver poetry to a silent room I recognized her genius is a combination of skill and courage,” said Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford, who attended and presented at the state contest. “Poetry comes up from the earth through her voice to the world.”

The other six students who competed, after advancing in regional contests, are: Christina Brennan, Oregon Connections Academy, Mill City; Amy Jarvie, Oregon School for the Deaf, Salem (2018 state runner up); Aynika Nelson, Brookings-Harbor High School, Brookings; Kaiden Randall, West Linn High School; Gabriella Shirtcliff, Summit High School, Bend; Megan Southard, Bonanza High School, Bonanza; and Hannah VonHolle, Logos Public Charter School, Medford.