By Kristine Johnson

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — In celebration of Black History Month, CBS2 is looking at the impacts of poetry and poets on Black history and culture.

As CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reports, these rich traditions go back centuries, with history still being made in 2021.

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Amanda Gorman’s words and presence captivated the nation at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. She did it again at Super Bowl LV, following in the deep footsteps of African American poets that came before her.

In 1761, Jupiter Hammon, a slave on Long Island, was the first Black poet to be published in North America.

Phillis Wheatley, enslaved in Boston, was the first to have a book of poetry published in 1773.

More recently, there were greats like Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. And, of course, the stunning, inspirational words of Maya Angelou.

“She is overjoyed that we are seeing the power of a young Black woman’s voice, and the ability to change and take over a stage and transform the world. Because the world is talking,” said Shanelle Gabriel, executive director at Urban Word NYC.

Gorman may have helped reignite that dialogue. She is part of history now as the youngest ever inaugural poet, and designated the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word, a dynamic 22-year-old organization (the same age as Gorman) that nurtures both the souls and voices of young people.

“We believe that poetry, hip-hop, the arts are ways to promote literacy, are ways to explore social justice issues, as well as just expanding on youth leadership opportunities,” Gabriel said.

“We tend to have students that are underserved in their own communities, so that is BIPOC students, LGBTQI population,” Gabriel added. “But we do primarily serve Black and brown students here in New York City, and now virtually we serve even further than that.”

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Those served say Urban Word helped them define their poetic voice.

“So, it got me into college. It got me money to go to college. It’s still bringing me money now. I perform,” said Nathanial Swanson, 19, from East New York.

He’s now attending DePaul University in Indiana.

“It definitely is something that allowed me to understand more about myself and really challenge myself, and break down barriers,” Swanson said.

Jellissa Lacon, 19, is a student at Monroe College. She says she explored new paths with her poetry after the recent events in Washington, D.C.

“I usually don’t write about politics and kind of steer off in that way, but I’m finding it more important. I’ve started writing poems about voting. I’ve written about the Capitol,” Lacon said.

Tia Walker, who’s headed to Dartmouth in the fall, says she is even more driven by the “Amanda Gorman” effect.

“It’s really cool seeing an African American woman going out there and really making a career of spoken word, and I think it’s very inspiring to young people to see that for myself. And it definitely gives me hope for the future,” said Walker.

Gabriel says she has seen the transformational power of Urban Word, bringing these young poets a hopeful, social awakening and helping to stoke these voices of the future.

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“It’s a wildfire that’s spreading. Now, we’re seeing that this is, there’s so much that can be gained from passing the mic,” said Gabriel.

Kristine Johnson