Ontario's first poet laureate on what 'introspective arts' can do for youth

Randell Adjei, Ontario's first poet laureate, says poetry saved his life and shaped who he is.

Randell Adjei was appointed last week to a two-year term

Randell Adjei is Ontario's first Poet Laureate. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

Randell Adjei, Ontario's first poet laureate, says poetry saved his life and shaped who he is.

The creative outlet helped him as a youth, and continues to be there today amid a pandemic that has taken a toll on everyone.

"I think it gave me an opportunity to release, and writing poetry in general is just a cathartic feeling," Adjei said on CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Thursday.

Adjei, who lives in Scarborough, was appointed to his two-year term last week. He is an art educator, spoken-word poet and author. In 2012, he founded an organization that encourages youth to express themselves through art, called R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere).

One of the things Adjei hopes to do in the position is inspire youth to "deepen their sense of self."

"I think there's a great opportunity for young people to really look within themselves. If they're going to be the leaders of our future, I feel like we need to prepare them and give them the tools necessary to ask the right questions about who they are, what their purpose is here on Earth," he said.

"And with educators, my goal is to help them understand how introspective arts like poetry can help young people transcend and overcome adversity," he said.

Adjei got into poetry in Grade 8 with the support of a teacher.

"I was one of those kids who got into a lot of trouble," he said. In a biography video on his website, Adjei explained how he went from being arrested at age 12 to graduating valedictorian.

"I was very angry, and didn't know how to express myself. And, you know, she didn't judge me for what I had to say. She listened, and even in her listening she discovered that I was pretty good at writing. She gave me a pen, she gave me a paper and she said 'tell me your story' and honestly, the rest is history," he said.

It was the first time he felt he could tell his story without feeling judged, he said. The paper, he found, "just listened."

"What she did for me, I thought to myself, well, I have to continue this for others," he said.

Position set up in honour of Downie

The idea to create the poet laureate position began with Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield.

He introduced the bill in honour of Tragically Hip singer-songwriter Gord Downie, who died in 2017.

"I think [Adjei is] going to be an incredible poet laureate," Hatfield said. "He is certainly an educator and a motivator, and when the travel restrictions are lifted, I mean, he'll be travelling the province, spreading the word and encouraging other poets."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from Windsor Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?