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CREC Arts Academy Junior Roshae Harrison Turned Racist Encounter into Winning Poem

Roshae Harrison, a 16-year-old black girl from Hartford, was once a blond and her hair color – she was in the process of going purple – attracted racist slurs from a man on the street.

“He called me the N-word and said I shouldn’t have blond hair. I just had to keep walking,” said Roshae, a junior at the CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts High School. “That happened a long time ago and I hadn’t thought about it until the presidential campaign.”

The experience turned into a poem, the winning poem in the 2017 Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens Student Poetry Competition. The prize includes a $1,000 scholarship. Roshae was honored at a reception at the University of Connecticut and performed her poem in front of students at Greater Hartford Classical Magnet High School.

The poem, “What You Told Me,” opens with a description of her experience and the advice her parents gave her.

“They told me the only way to defeat people like that is to get an education, that I need to go to college, learn more about where I come from and learn how to be an activist for my people,” Roshae said. “It’s a call to action about how the parents of minorities have to teach their children different lessons than what white people go through, like how to address the police, how to walk down the street, what to say to people, how to talk to people, all that stuff to protect you from bad things happening because of the color of your skin.”

Roshae has been writing since she was 10. She started with profuse, emotional journal entries that evolved into poetry and then short fiction. When she’s not composing poems she writes short horror stories and she recently started dabbling with sci-fi.

Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes are among her favorite writers. She sees herself possibly becoming a journalist or a lawyer down the line.

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