Appointment of 2022 Youth Poet Ambassador Kundai Chikowero and 2022 Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller at the Santa Barbara City Hall in Santa Barbara, California on July 19, 2022. Santa Barbara City Mayor Randy Rowse presented the proclamations. Credit: Rod Rolle

Santa Barbara County inducts Madeline Miller, the first-ever ​Youth Poet Laureate, and Kundai Chikowero, the first-ever Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador, this week. 

Born in Mexico City, Mexico and raised in Santa Barbara by her father, a pastor, and mother, an educator, Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller has always valued language arts and education. A recent graduate of San Marcos High School, she was the president of the San Marcos Writer’s Society and Vice President of the San Marcos Gender and Sexuality Alliance. She was also the Vice President of her school’s advanced women’s choir, Enchanté.

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Miller has competed in a number of poetry slams, including two first-place titles at the 2021 San Marcos High School Poetry Slam and the 2021 Santa Barbara County Poetry Slam. She worked as an assistant at a local law firm, completed an internship with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and currently works at Chaucer’s Books. She is involved in the Way Collective and other community activism and will continue to be involved in the community during her gap year.

Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller | Credit: Rod Rolle

There are trees in the Hallway by Madeline Miller

there are trees in the hallway.

that’s not a metaphor, there are manzanitas between the e wing and the f wing,

i stepped outside for a drink of water and there they were,

with strange red-orange fruits blossoming in between the buildings.

there is grass growing in the gutter,

over mr. oftedal’s room.

it’s taking root and taking back the d-wing rooftops.

         i was driving through the desert

         in a rainstorm with my mother

           and she was rattling off ravines of worries

           and speaking skid marks of worst case scenarios

             as we raced through the canyon

                   but I was thinking “look how much nature doesn’t need us”

                                 so much has been said about “save the wilderness”

                                 and “protect the polar ice caps”

                                                     but we are not her rescuer

                                                     That smokestack-oil-rig-mineshaft-polluted-water-turning-black

                                                                                                           is the way we poke the bear

                                                                                           We insist on biting the hand that feeds,

                                                                   but our Goldilocks planet is turning her paw against us

                                                                                         we cannot keep choosing the losing side.

   There are fruit trees in the hallways

           and grass in the gutter

                                                                                       and there will be life on earth with or without us

               She crawls in under the back door and colonizes countertops

        and clambers up through cracks in the pavement

                                                      and despite treating Nature like a guest in her own home, She is here.

                    She will always be here.

                                                                         I’m standing in the doorway looking at a manzanita tree

         And I’m thinking grim thoughts and writing sad things          

                                                                         but when I look at those red-orange berries I am not sad

                                                                                       The earth is a good and wonderful thing.

Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador Kundai Chikowero is a student at California Lutheran University in the University Honors Program, double majoring in Psychology and Philosophy. She is a proactive activist for social justice, community empowerment of underserved populations, and anti-racism. Chikowero was awarded the City of Santa Barbara Outstanding Youth Leader in 2018. She is a published poet who has won the Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Poetry competition six times since 7th grade. Her two volumes of published poetry are grounded in equality, peace, and determination, among other themes. Her poems were featured in a 2021 collection of poetry, While You Wait: A Collection by Santa Barbara County Poets (Gunpowder Press), edited by the former Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Laure-Anne Bosselaar. She has read her poems at various venues in Santa Barbara. With an understanding that racism is a taught social ill, Chikowero tackles this rampant problem in the Santa Barbara and California school systems by actively communicating with school administrations whenever she notices such cases by students in daily practice, particularly on social media. She plans to continue her social justice work by studying law in college through poetry and creating platforms for youths to use poetry as an avenue to promote peace and equality in society.

Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador Kundai Chikowero | Credit: Rod Rolle

Betrayal Silence by Kundai Chikowero 

Darkness linger, dark clouds transfuse 

Thunderstorm, raging seas 

Burning fires, tremors and twisters 

Lightning zapping, Whirlwind overwhelms 

Pandemic, Death 

Brutality, Murder 

Poverty, hopelessness 

Injustice everywhere, they cry for justice! 

Out in the streets 

Mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters 

Children and adults 

Traumatized, grieving, sadness 

No justice, No peace! 

Black Lives Matter! 

This skin, Matters! 

Where is empathy? 

Where is sympathy? 

Where is equality? 

Where is justice? 

Where is leadership? 

Where is the voice of reason? 

I hear his voice 

In my brain, it reverberates 

That strong voice yearning for equality 

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal” 

That voice, Martin Luther King’s reassuring voice! 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  

When injustice is everywhere 

How can one stay silent and give up? 

When democracy is on the line 

How can one stay calm? 

How, oh, how? 

When a pandemic ravages your loved ones 

How can one stay still?

When brothers and sisters are turned into hashtags! Murdered, like it’s 1865! 

Black codes, The Civil War,  

Jim Crow, “redemption!” 

Redlining, gentrification 

In this raging storm, silence is betrayal 

Speak up, fight with love, fight for equality!

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