Hennessys Ortiz, 16
Growing up in Savannah, Georgia, Hennessys Ortiz is a fervent advocate for mental health education and increasing access to specialized youth programs. She has noticed that American school systems are mainly focused on short-term memory learning—the academic success of students hinges on their test scores while more complex skills, like critical thinking and problem solving, are barely touched on in curricula. At her school, academic counselors struggle to provide emotional support to students. They are seen as unethical if they cross the boundaries of their role in academia, and are required to refer students seeking mental health support to a social worker, who is rarely available. She says that many of her peers do not know where to go when they face problems of anxiety or some such, and that the counselor-referral system traps students in a loop. As a student in a specialized program, Ortiz has seen too many of her peers struggle with academics without any knowledge that they have access to academic help through the school, even though they may be the ones who need it most.
Ortiz writes poetry in order to free her stories from her mind, exploring ideas that bring new life to her train of thought. Her writing explores firsthand experiences and other people’s stories, which help her learn and see from different points of view. Ortiz notes that her time at Deep Center, a writing and learning center in Savannah, Georgia, has offered her an incredible space to relate to her peers and realize that her voice is distinctive and does not need to imitate others.
Ortiz aspires to study astronautical engineering in college, and plans on leading a powerful legacy that will motivate people to realize their goals and change the world for good.
by Hennessys Ortiz
People who don’t know you, know you best.
You drown my words, holding me by my hair.
You push my head below the water of this marble tub.
Pulling and tugging as if I’m some puppet
I’m not some housepet you train to stay within certain walls,
You can’t tame me.
You take my expression of my culture
And switch it around, going up and down.
So absurd that it draws ignorant minds
Like moths to a light.
LED zappers, burning a lie into their minds.
They’ve become tainted with ash,
Their skin melted into a false rumor.
Saying I’m still able to tell my story to these frozen statues.
You’re stripping away at my story.
A child mindlessly disrobing at the trunk of a tree.
All of our years tossed to the dirt decomposes,
All is left are footprints, as you walk away when you get your finished product.
We’ve aged, we’ve grown tremendously,
There are visible wears in us yet still stand strong.
We’re magnificent willow trees, rooted with tradition,
flexible for what may strike us.
Try to snap us, we are strong,
We will thrive in the most challenging conditions.
We will grieve to never forget of our love and loss,
Through haunting loss we have room to grow.
Balance is key, learning to stay true in the harmony we create.
We are the path to hope and healing,
So I’d like to see you try to knock us down.