Before graduating from Bard College in 2019, Fanta Ballo never imagined how poetry would change her life.

“I turned to poetry at first as an outlet to write and then it became something bigger when I realized I could use my voice to advocate for things I feel passionate about,” said Ballo.

The 18-year-old always had a way with words. But after the death of George Floyd and others who were killed at the hands of police, Ballo was even more compelled to put pen to paper and craft poems like “My Black Is."

Ballo said she looks up to her poet peers like Rudy Francisco, Shihan Van Clief, and National Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. Gorman is now adding half-time headliner to her title, as she performed at Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

“I [saw] her on a Zoom call and the next time I [saw] her, she was live on television speaking in front of millions of people,” recalled Ballo. “Before them, I didn’t see how my poetry would translate into the real world."

After the pandemic hit, Ballo decided to use Instagram as a bigger outlet for her poetry, which got the attention of big-name celebrities, including singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes.

Mendes was so moved by Ballo’s work, he awarded her the first “Wonder Grant” from his foundation. The grant money helps young students pursue creative projects. Ballo is now attending UAlbany and is using the grant money to publish her upcoming book titled “For All the Things I Never Got to Say."

“This is why I believe in the power of words. Just last year, I said I would have a book out, and now my book will be out in 2021,” said Ballo. “My goal for the book is for people to see where they relate and how they can create their own art magic."

To view Ballo’s full work, visit her Instagram page or her website.