Return to Headlines

CSA senior wins local poetry slam, performs in national event (Video)




A Cleveland School of the Arts senior is gaining local and national attention for her writing.  

Recently, Laila won first place in the Great Lakes African American Writers Conference Youth Spoken Word Competition here in Cleveland.  

“I was surprised,”  Laila said humbly. “I always doubt my abilities, and I shouldn’t.” 

Two other CSA students, Deonta and Anabel, both juniors, won second and third place. 

For the virtual poetry slam, Laila had to record herself reciting three of her spoken word pieces. She won all three rounds and $250. Laila says it is an honor to have some view her poetry in such high regard.  

 “To think that people want to hear what I am saying and it is important to them is mind blowing,” Laila said.  

Laila started writing when she was 12 and won her first poetry slam. She became a published author, while in middle school, after winning a contest held by The American Library of Poetry.  

“I really like writing because it is an outlet,” said Laila, who moved to Cleveland more than two years ago.  “I can’t draw, and I am not good at sharing my feelings.  So, being able to write it out in a creative way is beautiful.”   

Laila is soft spoken, but her words speak volumes.  

She wrote her winning poem “Complacency” (see video), from the GLAAWC competition, in September after having writer's block all summer.  

“All of my ideas started coming to me once we got back to school,” the Georgia native said. She attributed the breakthrough to feelings about the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans by police, as well as unrelated experiences in her personal life.

Elizabeth Telich, CSA's director of creative writing and and an AP English teacher, said Laila is seeing the fruits of her labor.  

“She is a natural poet,” Telich said. “She is always working on side projects.” 

Laila self-published her first book of poetry, titled “I’ll Love You Again Someday," in early 2020.  In December, she performed her poem “Grandma’s Nail Polish” in the virtual All-City Arts Winter Concert featuring the Cleveland School of the Arts.


Laila received national attention when she was invited to perform at the Where Art Can Occur (WACO) Theatre Center’s I Got the Mic: Poetic Experience Youth Edition. 

Beyonce’s mother and stepfather, Tina Knowles Lawson and Richard Lawson, founded WACO, located in North Hollywood, Calif., and invited young artists from around the country to perform at the virtual event. 

“We need to hear from our young people for the change that we need,” said Telich.  “Laila has a way to get people to listen, and we need to lift her voice.” 

Earning college credit while she was in high school, Laila graduated from Tri-C with an associate degree in December. After she graduates from CSA, she plans to major in psychology with a minor in computer science.