Central Virginia teen writes “Hope,” a poem nominated for national award

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 11:59 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

AFTON, Va. (WVIR) - Central Virginia teen Zina Parker hasn’t even stepped foot into high school, but she’s already up for a national award in the Pulitzer Center’s “Fighting Words” contest.

At her school, North Branch School in Afton, Virginia, Parker was tasked with reading an underreported story and writing a poem about it.

She read about a dancer in Brazil who taught dance to girls, despite living in a community plagued by gun violence.

Here is the award-nominated poem:


in the atmosphere,

cutting short

a flourishing career.

Without letting her head drop,

she continues on.

She’s caught in

crossfire confrontations




and motivation

are stronger than uncertainty.

The chronic crisis of opportunity

comes knocking,

but hope trickles

into the minds

of those faced with violence.


they have a better chance

of learning to dance

through the bitter cycle

of hardship.

NBC29 met Parker and her mom, Anya Shepelavey, and asked her what she thinks about when she hears the poem.

“I’m struck by the maturity of the theme and Zina’s world view,” Shepelavey said. “It feels like the poem sort of balances lightness and dark, positive and negative.”

Jennifer Page has taught Parker since second grade and also commented on the poem.

“The message of perseverance and coming through despite terrible obstacles and especially through a really hard year, I felt this was really a message of hope that we haven’t seen,” she said.

The message of the poem is timeless and up to everyone’s individual interpretation, but here’s what Parker hopes you take away from it: “Keep doing something that you’re passionate about throughout hard things.”

As for what’s next for the 13-year-old? High school, and most likely much more.

“I hope to keep writing poetry, keep writing songs, keep dancing. It may shift, but yeah I’ll just see whatever the future throws at me,” she said.

Parker and her family just moved to Charlottesville. She’ll be attending The Renaissance School for 9th grade in the fall.

Copyright 2021 WVIR. All rights reserved.