“my professor told us to sum up our life using 6 words.here is how I summed up mine: my story is not in English.– I will not translate it. You’re in my country now.”
Liberian-born Bilphena Yahwon, 24, wrote this poem in her book, “teaching gold-mah how to heal herself,” self-published two years ago. She has been probing her life through words since childhood. When she did something wrong, her grandfather, Dr. Edwin J. Lloyd, a clergyman and humanitarian leader in Liberia, would force young Bilphena to go to a corner and write. The oral storytelling tradition in Africa also sparked her literary imagination.
Her family fled to the Ivory Coast during Liberia’s first civil war. They arrived in northern Virginia as refugees in 2001, and resettled in Pikesville when Bilphena was in middle school. The aspiring writer progressed from filling composition notebooks to composing on a laptop at cafes near her Charles Village apartment. Her poems and commentary appear on her website, which celebrates creative women of color. Yahwon is also an outreach coordinator for the conflict resolution programs run by the Community Conferencing Center.
Social justice issues of gender, race and the immigrant experience loom large for the passionate writer. Yahwon identifies with womanism, a movement that recasts feminism into a broader fight against oppression based on the intersection of race and class. Through her work, Yahwon offers personal approaches to healing and activism. As an immigrant, keenly aware of the trauma of being an outsider, Yahwon counsels in her poetry, “trust your journey … you are becoming and you are breathing. you are here.”