BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With a loving family and safe home, Gracelyn Vance can only imagine what it’s like to be a victim of human trafficking – and she does just that in her powerful poem “Your Eyes.”
In the poem, Gracelyn includes these lines:
Your pale blue irises spoke of pain of various kinds
That’s when I remembered the signs
You always spoke wistfully of birds, saying you admired their freedom
You admired that they could come and go as they please
You couldn’t, not with the man that sticks to you like a disease
The man who acts as if he has the power of kings
The man who holds you captive, like a bird with clipped wings
I can see it in your eyes, how you wish to rise and fly free from captivity
That poem by Gracelyn, an Anthony Wayne High School freshman, is one of 12 finalists in the fifth annual High School Poetry Slam and Art Competition, presented by the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference at The University of Toledo. The goal of the competition is to bring awareness to a global issue.
Additionally, Gracelyn’s accompanying dark charcoal and watercolor rendering features symbols of human trafficking and is one of 11 art finalists.
In addition to judges’ scores on both the drawing and the poem, Gracelyn’s final score in the competition will include popular votes. The public can vote daily online.
Although she entered a Toledo-Lucas County Public Library essay contest in seventh grade, this is the first time she’s had her work selected as a finalist.
“I’ve always known poetry as a form of art and I’ve always enjoyed it. I do it a lot on my own time,” Gracelyn said.
She was especially inspired by an eighth-grade creative writing club, hosted weekly after school by teacher James Bolone. The club gives students an opportunity to write and share their work with one another for feedback. Gracelyn started writing a murder mystery, with each page a different poem that told the story. She plans to work on expanding that work in her own time.
“Mr. Bolone was very inspirational to me personally. He really encouraged me to continue on in writing. That’s probably why I entered this competition in the first place,” Gracelyn said. “He encouraged me to express myself through my writing. He’s encouraging to all writers in general.”
As a freshman, Gracelyn decided to join the Art Club and volunteer as an officer. Advisor Carrie Flagg shares art competitions that are available – including the one sponsored by the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference at The University of Toledo.
To Gracelyn, drawing and poetry go hand in hand. In Mrs. Flagg’s class, she’s finishing a ceramic mask based on The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young.” With bright red roses and a gray-glazed face, her mask will be on display during the annual art show – along with a detailed artist’s statement.
As a member of the Art Club, Gracelyn finds opportunities to explore the lighter side of art as well – volunteering to do face painting, decorating the high school doors for Halloween and the halls for homecoming. The club meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.
Outside of school, Gracelyn enjoys spending time with her family and reading poetry, including that of the late Chūya Nakahara, a prolific Japanese poet who died in 1937.
To read Gracelyn’s poem and to vote for the poem or drawing, visit traffickingconference.com/high-school-workshop-poetry-art through Sunday, December 31.