Welcome to our newest OOM series dedicated to spotlighting those who have participated in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards over the past 100 years. Every week leading up to the national Awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in June, we will be sharing the stories of some of the program’s incredible alumni whose lives have been impacted by the Awards.
To kick off our series is Haydil Henriquez, a professional writer, the inaugural Bronx Poet Laureate, and an alumna of the program who now works full-time for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as Manager at the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers of the Awards’ NYC program!
In 2008 at the age of 16, Haydil was recognized by the Awards for her achievements in poetry. As a self-proclaimed shy person trying to find her voice, Haydil had “never thought in a million years that [she] would get selected,” on a regional, let alone national, level by the Awards.
So when she received her national achievement and saw her winning poem, I Don’t Want to Slam, in the 2008 issue of Best Teen Writing, Haydil finally realized just how important and powerful her words could be. As a first generation American and a woman of color, Haydil felt she could make a difference in the world through her poetry by focusing on the issues that mattered to her the most: social prejudice, racial injustices, and equity.
It was an unconventional journey that led Haydil back to the Alliance and the Awards. In college, she studied Psychology and Education with a minor in Latin American Studies, and while her coursework did not involve traditional writing courses, behind the scenes Haydil kept her passion for poetry alive, forming a spoken word club called Oasis where she led poetry workshops and other events. After graduation, Haydil served as a co-director of The DreamYard arts center before spending a year with family in the Dominican Republic, where she worked on a farm. During her time abroad, Haydil discovered her passion for working with youth organizations and helping make an impact in children’s lives, so she came back to New York, applied for the Alliance’s NYC Management position, and has been there ever since.
In her time at the Alliance, Haydil has worked to expand the diversity and equity of the program in New York City. She joined a Racial Equity Taskforce offered to Affiliate managers and has been transforming the regional judging system at the Alliance with a focus on increasing the program’s representation in public schools. From reimagining certain structures, to going into classrooms to talk to students about the program and her own experience earning a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, Haydil has been doing it all to help students of all backgrounds participate in the program.
“My role [at the Alliance] is to ensure that more of those dreams [and experiences, like her own] continue to happen.”
Outside of work, Haydil has passionately continued to pursue her writing career. She has been published in a variety of literary journals and magazines and, in June of 2021, was honored as the inaugural Bronx Poet Laureate, a two-year position that sees her promoting literacy throughout the Bronx, building community pride amongst children, teens and adults, and spreading her love of reading, writing and poetry.
It is without doubt that the Awards have made an impact on Haydil’s overall journey. Her recognition back in 2008 truly pushed her to realize just how important and powerful her love of words and poetry truly are and how she could use them for change.
Overall, Haydil’s story is testament to just how programs such as the Awards have not only been able to impact people’s lives during adolescence, but also adulthood.
To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit artandwriting.org. And be sure to return to On Our Minds next week for our next alumni spotlight!
Images in the body: Courtesy of Haydil Henriquez