by Rasheedah Na’Allah

I am a Nigerian Muslim Woman
Raised from Jollof rice and my mother’s unwavering love
The cracked red mud of my rich Yoruba tongue
The sweltering hot sun
The boom-boom of the drums
in my pumping African veins
And lifelong happiness,
Happiness that rises as my shoulders move to the rhythm
Happiness knowing that I can unapologetically express myself
By wearing a headdress and engaging the cultured personality I possess
Paving the way for my success
The success that makes me so blessed to say
I am a Nigerian Muslim Woman

But my pride comes with a price
A price not paid when I hear the lies spread
About the place I call home
It is then that my heart is at bay
And those beating drums come to a stop
It is then that the pain and stress climb up to my chest
When people say,

Where did you come from?
No, But where did you really come from
Oh, you’re from Africa?
The continent with less
Food, less water
With no access
To fancy shoes or a nice dress
With no school nor class
Yet nonetheless

You speak really good English
But you’re from Nigeria?
The country with extreme poverty and filthiness
With Ebola and sickness
And wild animals in each living room

So maybe that’s why they consider you savages

I’m always left speechless
No words escaping my mouth
And no more breath so
All I say is

But when people continue to obsess
With the appearance I possess
They overlook the ignorance in their hearts
As they oppress you with their words
To separate, exclude, or write you off from the rest
But I digress

They’ll never be able to force a wave of mess on me
Because I am a Nigerian, Muslim Woman.
Born and raised in the U.S.
A country that has allowed me to see the diversity
In every background and personality
The diversity between you and i
And all the rest

But what if I wasn’t born here?
Does that make me any less?
Worthy of success, opportunity, or happiness

Don’t try to oppress me
Don’t try to belittle me
Don’t call me a mess

Because you think you can confess
That I am considerably less

But you’re wrong
Because we should be the same
The same when it comes to having an awareness
That no matter the success, the money or all the excess
You are not better than the rest
You may be richer in wealth, but I am rich in happiness
Happiness built within me from serving those with less
And seeing them as I see myself

This is what it feels like live a life of fulfillment
When I reflect on my country for teaching me patience
And shaping my ability to dignify others of varying access
I realize that humility is not thinking less of yourself
but rather thinking of yourself less

So yes
I am a proud Nigerian Muslim Woman.

About Rasheedah Na’Allah

Rasheedah Na’Allah is a senior at Dunlap High School in Peoria, Illinois. She is the youngest of her 3 siblings and enjoys the benefits of being the “baby of the house.” Her Nigerian and Muslim upbringing has led her to be resilient and outspoken in her beliefs. Rasheedah is a dedicated student who is a part of the National Honors Society and loves to be active in her community. She planned a diversity assembly at her school in front of the entire student body, formed an extensive research project on racial disparities and inequities in the education system, and has been appointed into the Peoria County Board’s Racial Justice and Equity Commission. She has also served as Dunlap’s representative to engage and network with young state leaders attending the 2020 Illinois Senator Youth Leadership Council. Rasheedah is the founder of her school’s Muslim Student Association, leads in foreign language club, and is a strong member of the color guard team. Outside of school, she enjoys volunteering and regularly posts on her cooking page through social media. She started her own book club and enjoys reading and discussing books by BIPOC authors. She hopes to pursue Business, Health, and Wellness during her college years and is extremely honored to write for the Giving Voice Initiative.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Ary Westfall is a junior Interactive Media major and Theatre Arts minor attending Bradley University. She is the social media manager for DAT, creates webcomics in her free time, and enjoys all forms of sequential art. Ary hopes to break into the comic world or find work in pre-production art for television. 

The Great Hunger

by Gabriel Gross

Those who do not heed the lessons of the 

past may see history repeat itself.

Ireland is a bustling place full of friendly locals and busy tourists. Whether exploring historic neighborhoods in Dublin, drinking in a local pub, or adventuring along the coast of the Emerald Isle, Ireland has it all. Although you might be thinking to yourself, “Ireland sounds perfect,” it wasn’t always this way. The Great Hunger, or the Irish Potato Famine, plagued Ireland during the 19th century. It led to one million Irish people dying and an additional one million fleeing the country.

Despite their popularity, potatoes are not native to Ireland; they were brought to the country by Sir Walter Raleigh. This particular type of potato—known as the “Irish Lumper”—survived Ireland’s climate and was commonly appreciated by the Irish people because of how healthy and hardy it was. Half of the Irish population was reliant on this crop, especially the poor, which is part of why the potato famine was so devastating.

The famine was largely the result of phytophthora infestans, a fungus that causes blight and targets the tuber of the potato—an underground stem that helps with reproduction. This bacteria was the number one challenge to potato crops worldwide. The potato crop failed quickly when the bacteria hit Ireland, leading to devastating consequences because Irish farmers did not grow any other crops. Another problem this disease caused was terror to the Irish people. Ireland’s population decreased from 8.4 million to 6.6 million people from 1844-1851, largely due to their inability to grow potatoes from 1845-1849.

Some might come to the conclusion that this disease is solely responsible for causing the famine, though there were also various political factors. Britain ruled Ireland at the time, and the two countries were known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The British regime controlled most of Ireland’s government, including appointing their executive officers. When Britain seized control of Ireland, it snatched up many pieces of land, which were given to the English people. With no power to stand up for themselves to the rich English landlords, the Irish people had to stand by and watch as the British sold any healthy potatoes, leaving Irish citizens with nothing.

Food insecurity, famine, and disease still plague this world today. An example of a modern crisis is the civil war in Yemen, which began in 2014. Twenty million Yemenis struggle with food insecurity, with two million children in that group. Half of Yemen’s citizens do not have access to clean water. An example closer to home would be the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The city water supply became contaminated in 2014. Lack of action by government officials led to a public health disaster. The past is so much like the present that it seems history really does repeat itself. It’s crucial that we remember historical catastrophes such as what happened in Ireland, while being aware that people are still experiencing the same today.

About Gabe Gross 

Gabriel Gross is an eighth grader at St. Thomas school in Peoria Heights. He is the Student Council president. He plans to go to Richwoods and apply for the IB program. He loves baseball, basketball, and traveling. He also enjoys learning about history and how much it has changed our lives today.

Art by Ellie Kraemer

Ellie Kraemer is a sophomore and an animation major at Bradley University who lives and breathes her artwork. Becoming a professional artist and animator has been a goal of hers for many years, as various works of digital art and experience have held a pivotal role in her life. Intrigued by the diverse storytelling prowess of interactive media, she aims to get involved in the productions of visuals for video games and animated series after graduation. You can find more of her work at ekraemer.myportfolio.com. 

My Childhood Is Gone

by Ayannah Garcia

The feeling of my youth is gone
I don’t know where it went but I see it when I look at the swans
Maybe it’s the superheroes flying around in capes that I miss
Or the warm feeling that comes along with a forehead kiss

Clouds are moving along the sky with my age
Money used to be a funny thing now it is a necessity for a wage
My brother’s not-forgotten absence aches in my rib cage
Almost feels like everything that is going on is a play on the stage

Is my youth in a place I cannot touch?
It probably is, since I miss it so much
Memories make my heart break into two
But you could somehow patch it with some glue?

Patch the broken heart and stitch my split
Gauze, tape and medicine are also in the First Aid Kit
To use to fix me while we are laying in the candlelit
Hold on, is this just an essay for school I forgot to submit?

My daydreams are distracting me from math
But they used to be a part of my life when I took a bath
Childhood feelings are slowly slipping from me
Where is a place I can once again be carefree?

I want back my dad’s tuck-ins
The laughter that came from tickling my skin
The feeling of my youth is gone and it makes my head spin
It makes me feel like I am scraps of paper left in the trash bin.

About Ayannah Garcia

Ayannah Garcia is a freshman attending Richwoods High School, where she takes part in the Pre-IB program, the Royalettes dance team, and the drama club. Outside of school, she loves to dance, read, journal, travel with family, and play with her dog. In addition to these activities, she is currently a member of the Finale Group of the Greater Peoria Illinois Chapter of Jack and Jill, an organization for young African American individuals who want to serve the community, and a member of her church’s youth group.

About Faith Marie

Faith Marie is a homeschooled 18 year old freshman at Ashworth College. She enjoys nature, rainy days, and her pet dog and snails. She has an abundance of love for Jesus and people of all kinds. The idea of creating art that has never existed before inspires her. You can find her on Instagram at @faithmariedraws or on tiktok at @_faitha.

The Most Formative Four Years

by Liz Setti 

Is college really the best four years of 

your life, or an opportunity to grow 

into the person you hope to become?

Social media influencer Eli Rallo once said, “College is not the best four years of your life, but the most formative ones.” As a senior in high school soon to be attending Loyola University Chicago in the fall, this idea strongly resonated with me. There seems to be a societal stereotype that between the ages of 18 and 22 (the average age of college students) is supposed to be the epitome of an untamed lifestyle. With this concept being preached, an incredible amount of pressure exists for students in college to create a way of living that matches that societal standard. This pressure is also then placed on young adults who are soon to move into college since they are fixated on trying to adopt the sought-after “college” lifestyle. I think there needs to be a shift in the narrative about the college experience because if the peak of your life is between 18 and 22, the rest of your existence is just dull. Reframing this time to become “the most formative years of your life” allows students to have a healthier relationship with their college experience. 

To preface, it is important to acknowledge that creating the ideal college experience (according to society) requires a lot of privilege that is not the reality for many college students. 

In order to reframe my mindset going into college, I have compiled a few goals that will foster a formative environment. I think that it is important for anyone who is transitioning into a new era of their life (in my case college) to assemble some realistic objectives to strive towards. However, goals are very subjective and are not “one-size-fits-all,” therefore take my list of priorities as inspiration, not a prescription.

  1. Attend local off-campus events. By attending Loyola, I will have the city of Chicago at my fingertips—which allows for plenty of exploration and enjoyment outside of the borders of Loyola. I can speculate that many college students confine themselves to only going to events hosted by their school because it is more comfortable for them. However, I really want to venture out into the city and embody being a Chicago resident, not just a Loyola student. Something I really want to do is join a local running club which would force me to spend time with people who may not be affiliated with my school. 
  2. Start a fun new hobby with my roommate Eliana. I have been very lucky to have become close with my future roommate, Eliana, prior to us moving into our dorm this fall. Instead of her just being someone I live with I am eager to also grow our friendship. I think it would be fun for us to find something we both enjoy doing together and integrate it into our time at Loyola. The activity may be something we just find naturally, or we may have to brainstorm. But the sole purpose of this goal is to actively grow my relationship with the people surrounding me. It is overwhelming to commit myself to make friends with everyone around me therefore setting a small and attainable objective like this makes it a lot easier to accomplish. 
  3. Chill with the FOMO (“fear of missing out”) I assume that it is safe to say that we all experience some sense of FOMO in our lifetime. FOMO is feeling the need to attend every social event out of the fear of missing out. I suffer from this all the time, so I find myself going out every weekend and never giving myself time to recharge and be satisfied with my own company. FOMO is even more prevalent in college through social media and party culture. I want to try to actively remind myself when I get to college that I do not need to subscribe to a 24/7 party lifestyle as a result of FOMO. The main objective of this goal is to achieve the balance of staying in and going out while also not feeling guilty when I decide to have a night to myself. 

Overall finding the time to set realistic goals for college that do not necessarily relate to academics has relieved some of the societal pressure that I have been facing recently. I can focus on what I want my college version to look like, not what society deems “ideal.” I do not want to peak in college nor have the best years of my life be between the ages of 18 and 22 years old. The rest of my life would only seem to be downhill from there which is so undesirable. However, I want college to be the most formative period of my life where I can flourish into adulthood and be prepared to peak for the rest of my time. 

About Liz Setti

Liz Setti is a Peoria area native and graduated in the class of 22 from Richwoods High School. She is going to be a freshman at Loyola University Chicago this fall where she will study nursing. Liz is passionate about writing and has her own blog, “A Hidden Addiction” and was former co-editor in chief of the newspaper at Richwoods. Some of Liz’s favorite hobbies are running, cooking, and hanging with her friends.

Art by Ellie Kraemer

Ellie Kraemer is a sophomore and an animation major at Bradley University who lives and breathes her artwork. Becoming a professional artist and animator has been a goal of hers for many years, as various works of digital art and experience have held a pivotal role in her life. Intrigued by the diverse storytelling prowess of interactive media, she aims to get involved in the productions of visuals for video games and animated series after graduation. You can find more of her work at ekraemer.myportfolio.com. 

The Closeted Priest’s Daughter

by Eli Backhaus

Daylight basks on the church
While the priest preaches his biblical research

The community praises his teachings
While his words cause my spirit to quarrel and sting

The one who speaks on the pulpit is my father
The church worships me as a perfect preacher’s daughter

Only if they knew I am tormented and solely exist in the witches hour
I am a coward

My identity lies within a hidden chest

The key has fallen between the cracks of dusk and dawn
When will the silver lining of right and wrong be redrawn?

My soul sleeps in horror
As the cult I call my church roarers

If only they knew a deadly sin lies within the priests dwelling

In the depths of my closet a pink, purple, blue flag you will find
It is kept in a bind

My love for the same has been sacrificed
Oh God, when will you sanctify my hell sending sin?
I beg for you to cleanse my skin
Light it to flames for I am to blame

I am called to be a woman of God
But I am flawed

I have fallen in love with a woman’s spirit
My whole being fears it

I pray and plea for you to save me
Then you answer me

Suddenly the ticks on the clock breeches a block
A shooting star takes a breath in time
I grasp the time I’m given
My eyes squint to see the Lord’s writings upon the truth star

The script I see tattoos his love on me
It has not once changed
He does not blame or shame
He accepts my abundant love for my one and only

With the renewing rightness of his gift given to me
I pray the same star stops for the eyes of those designed like me

The chimes on the clock resume
But my old self at no time will presume

I am now devoted to my same spirited love and love for my God

Think no more of religion
But about a decision

To love my beloved God and to love who I desire

So I let my identity fly free
I hang my flag proudly
I am free to be me.

by Eli Backhaus

Eli Backhaus is an aspiring author. She writes poetry and spoken words nearly every day. This year Backhaus submitted a poem to Poetry Nation’s writing competition and advanced to the semi-finals. This poem is being published in a book with the works of other semi-finalists and finalist’s poetry. It will be available to purchase on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (online). Backhaus is excited to be moving forward in her journey to becoming a known author. She hopes to sign with a publisher and/or self-publish future books. When not writing poetry, Backhaus aspires to write fiction and non-fiction books. She wants to write and share her story about being a gay Christian living in a pastor’s household. Backhaus believes everyone should know they are loved and accepted by God, and that any church teachings otherwise are both hypocritical and detrimental. She hopes to reveal the truth about the wonderful person God has made all of us to be.