“Memories of my childhood live/between the rings of sand around my ankles/ and the desert heat in my lungs.
I still believe that nothing washes/worry from tired skin better than the Nile/and my grandma’s hands.
Every day I go to school/with the weight of dead neighbors/on my shoulders.”
That’s an excerpt from “People Like Us,” a poem by 26-year-old Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, a world champion slam poet known for her vivid language and dedication to uplifting others. As a global goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, she’s taught poetry workshops in refugee camps from the Middle East to Africa. Over the past several months, Mahmoud, who is based in New Haven, Conn., has been creating poetry about the pandemic and protesting for racial justice while working toward launching her new nonprofit organization, The Women’s Table. Named after a sculpture honoring the role of women at her alma mater Yale University, Mahmoud says her new initiative will amplify the voices of marginalized groups.
So what’s her next big goal? A career in medicine.
In her slam poet persona, Mahmoud speaks in bursts of energy, almost like she’s performing a concerto – her voice speeds up, slows down and emphasizes words that echo through the auditorium. Offstage, she is careful and analytical, with detailed, measured explanations about her thought process.