photographs by Marci Lambert
High school is often a time of discovery and for Terriney Gipson, it’s meant discovering her voice. Though she appears reserved on first meeting, don’t let her demeanor fool you. This 17-year-old recently won first place at Overton High School’s Grizzly Poetry Slam. When she walks onto the stage and begins performing one of her spoken word pieces, her confidence shines forth like a beacon and she is transformed into a young woman strong, smart, and bold.
Terriney has always loved writing, even in elementary and middle school when she shared her thoughts and feelings in a diary. But poetry didn’t start to blossom until Terriney entered a creative writing class at Overton High School. As her mother, Clara, describes it, that class added the “Wow” factor. When she watches her daughter claim the stage, she’ll tell you in a hushed voice of wonder, “I’m like, that’s my baby, MY baby!” and beams with pride.
Terriney says she likes surprising new friends by slowly revealing her various skills and interests. “A lot of people judge me because of my size,” she says. “They think I can’t do anything.” But that’s far from reality, she loves to play soccer and basketball and has long been involved in a variety of clubs at school.
In the afternoon, she lends her talents to Girls Inc., an organization she joined back in eighth grade and one that’s given her much in the way of guidance and friendship over the years. “Girls feel free to talk here where they don’t always have family at home to talk to,” she says, thankful for a loving mother and her 15-year brother Jerquintez, who shares her interest in drama. Now she’s giving back to Girls Inc. by being a part of Girls in Charge, a program that teaches leadership skills. She attended a nationwide leadership summit and has been learning about bike repair as the organization works towards opening a bicycle repair shop downtown later this year.
As for her poetry, Terriney joined other students from Overton, White Station, and Houston High School at Theatre Memphis where they collaborated and learned how to add movement and other dramatic elements to their work. Then the students performed a poetry showcase for their family and friends. Here, Terriney read her poem and afterwards, she was amped. “I’ve never gotten so many compliments. I was overwhelmed, they loved it.”
She’s planning to attend college and major in creative writing with a minor in psychology and counseling, but she really wants to be a traveling spoken word artist. For now, she’s got more writing to do. Her aunt recently asked her to pen a poem for Black History month and Terriney says, “I started writing and it’s turned out long. I’m still not done!” That voice she’s discovered? This teen’s just beginning to have her say.