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9-Year-Old Harlem Poet Who Brought Down the House at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Inauguration Has His Sights on Becoming President

Kayden Hern, 9, brought an entire auditorium of people to their feet as he recited a poem he calls “In My Mind.” The young poet laureate shared what it’s like to be a young Black boy growing up in a post-George Floyd era. 

“Black is the color of my skin, so soft, beautiful, silky, and smooth,” Kayden Hern said while reciting his poem.

Kayden Hern’s oratory is grabbing headlines after he delivered a thought-provoking poem on race during the New York governor’s Jan. 1 inauguration.

Kayden Hern is being raised by his grandmother, Jacqueline Hern, in Harlem, New York. She helped him discover his love of poetry which ultimately landed him a marquee spot during Kathy Hochul’s inauguration ceremony.

“Everything he does, his nana is there with him supporting him 125 percent,” Jacqueline Hern said.

Following the murder of George Floyd, streets were flooded with people protesting police brutality and racism. Kayden Hern was trying to wrap his young mind around what was happening.

“We were just expressing ourselves watching the news and everything going on in the world,” Jacqueline Hern said.

Attempting to channel his curious mind, Jacqueline Hern told her grandson to write his questions down, and she would answer them. Little did she know her innocuous writing assignment on racism would unleash an expressive side of Kayden she never knew existed.

“It made me feel bad, and I wanted to make a change,” Kayden Hern said.

Jacqueline Hern sends words of encouragement to her grandson, Kayden Hern, 9. (Photo: Facebook/Kayden Hern)

Kayden Hern’s inquisitive mind poured into a rhythm, and the words began to rhyme as his poetic talents began to flourish. Jacqueline Hern says although she helps with some of Kayden’s content, most of what he writes comes from him. His grandmother says he incorporates elements from Black history and social justice he learned at home and school into his writings.

“My favorite part about being a poet is expressing yourself through words,” Kayden Hern said.

“I think of new poems I want to write, and if certain poems don’t sound right, I just think of another one,” he continued.

Jacqueline Hern took notice of her grandson’s interest in poetry. She started taking him to Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater on occasion to expose him to the world of poetry on a bigger stage. 

“Before we started going to Apollo for amateur night, I wanted him to go to experience what was going on so he could be prepared before he went on stage,” Jacqueline Hern said.

Kayden Hern boldly started performing his poetry at the Apollo Theater’s amateur nights. Then his life took an unexpected turn last summer when he crossed paths with Democratic Gov. Hochul.

Kayden Hern, 9, poses for the camera before walking on the stage at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. (Photo: Facebook/Kayden Hern)

“At first, I just wanted to take a picture with her, then she asked me what I do, and I said I do art, and I also read poems,” Kayden Herns said

“I saw this young man standing there. I said, ‘You’re going in to watch somebody?’ He goes, ‘No, I’m a poet. I’m going to go recite,'” Hochul told her inauguration crowd.

Hochul asked Kayden to recite his poem, and he did just that on the spot.

“I figured he’d whip out a piece of paper and read it to me. He had memorized it. He gave me a poem, and I said, ‘If I win this election, you are my poet laureate, and I want you here,” Hochul said.

Since that meeting, Kayden Hern and his grandmother followed the governor’s race closely. When Hochul won the governor’s race last November, the phone rang. Hochul kept her promise and invited Kayden Hern to her big day. On inauguration day, it was young Kayden who brought down the house.

“I heard my ancestor cry. They help clear the path so others do not have to die. Justice and peace, father please help me. That is what I heard in my mind,” Kayden Hern said during his recitation.

Kayden Hern, 9, as poet laureate during Gov. Kathy Hochul’s inauguration ceremony. (Photo: Facebook/Kayden Hern)

Jacqueline Hern is excited about Kayden’s bright future. He’s just in the fourth grade, so he is still deciding what he wants to do when he grows up. He has two potential interests in mind so far, a car salesman or becoming U.S. president.

“I am a proud, proud, proud Black grandmother,” Jacqueline Hern said.

She urges other parents and guardians to always love, nurture and most of all listen to their children. She believes those attributes are what helped open doors for her grandson’s bright future.  

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