CLEVELAND, Ohio—Honey Bell-Bey was named Tuesday as Cuyahoga County’s first poet laureate in 16 years.
The post won’t pay a penny, but she hopes it will expand her reach as a poet and activist.
“Poetry can unite us all,” she said before the County Council voted unanimously to appoint her. She already recites and draws out others’ voices at many programs around the state. She has worked with youths, women, police and other groups, using poetry as a way to tackle issues such as social justice.
“The position can’t be about me. It’s about teaching other people to use this art form to help families and communities heal.”
Bell-Bey of East Cleveland is best known as the founding leader of the Distinguished Gentleman of Spoken Word, a well-traveled group of young African-American performing poets. She also directs adolescent and intervention services for the Hough branch of the statewide UMADAOP: Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program.
But she is also a poet in her own right, who has shared her work and drawn out others’ voices at many programs around the state.
A resolution to create the post was sponsored by Shontel Brown of Cuyahoga County Council District 9 and passed unanimously today. The resolution says, “Through poetry, we can more clearly see where we stand, and vividly imagine how we want to shape our society. Art expands our possibilities, and the incorporation of poetry in public life allows for more creative and visionary collective governance.”
As for the particular laureate, “Honey Bell-Bey has a passion to use poetry to give voice to issues that challenge, confront and change community.”
At the council meeting, Bell-Bey said, “Through the vehicle of poetry, we’ve been able to address social injustice. We’ve been able to address educational disparities. We’ve been able to address voter rights. We’ve been able to address domestic violence. There’s nothing that can’t be tackled through the beauty and lyrics of poetry… Very simple words can change the trajectory of life.”
Cuyahoga County’s last poet laureate was Daniel Thompson, who held the post from 1992 until his death in 2004. Now the post will be annual, and Bell-Bey will help design criteria for choosing her successor.
Bell-Bey was sworn into office by an old Shaw High classmate, Gayle Williams-Byers, now a South Euclid judge.