Akilah Toney, 16

Akilah Toney is a published writer, artivist, dancer, actress, and photographer, living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Toney uses the arts as a means to express her personal experiences as a young Black Girl living in Southeast Louisiana. Toney explores different mediums such as dance and the meter/rhyme in poems to amplify her voice. She uses her artmaking as a method of activism to bring awareness to social issues. Through her writing and dancing, Toney tells stories about race relations in America, marginalized communities, gentrification and internalized racism in Black girls. She attributes her courage and inspiration to Audre Lorde, Toni and Mwende Katwiwa, whose unapologetic discussion of their Black womanhood and utilization of their writing as a catalyst for important social issues have encouraged Toney to use and amplify her own voice in her own community

Toney also uses her writing to raise awareness of the rapid gentrification of New Orleans, especially the displacement of many locals who cultivated the culture of the city. She sees changes happening to New Orleans every day, and is appalled at the prioritization of affluence in her city. Toney says that gentrification is so rapid that many locals do not feel welcomed in their own city and that the movement is targeted towards low income families and families of color, two prominent demographics in New Orleans. She often asks herself, where will these families go? What will happen to the culture of Black New Orleans? How will economic disparity change the landscape of New Orleans?

Toney plans to attend college and will major in psychology and African studies. She is also excited to study many other things after graduating from high school, like Louisiana wetland preservation, racial anthropology and writing. Toney has been honored as the 2016 Pizza Poetry Laureate of New Orleans, the 2018 Grand Slam Poetry Champion of New Orleans, is the recipient of the 2017 and 2018 National Scholastic Gold Key Award and the 2018 Umbra Award, a 2018 American Voices Nominee, a 2018 National Student Poets semi-finalist, and the 2019 Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key and Silver Key Award.