Rebecca Richards-Diop

When did you first learn about Pongo Poetry Project?
I first learned about Pongo in 2014. A friend of mine was volunteering as a mentor and I just had to know more.

What do you do/did you do professionally? What's your educational background?
Writing is my first love. It is the way I try to make sense of the world. But I have pursued another creative path to earn an income and work as a designer in my professional life.

What drew you to Pongo's work?
While some of the details differ, what I share with many of the populations that Pongo serves is a past in which I was discounted and silenced. Overtly and covertly I was told, ‘You don’t count. You don’t matter. Nobody cares what you think.’ So I feel compelled to honor people who have been marginalized—pushed out and discounted—told their lived experience is somehow less valid, less valuable.

What do you find most challenging about Pongo's work?
Currently, the biggest challenge is connecting emotionally through a computer screen. Pongo has done an amazing job of adapting during Covid but part of the magic for me personally is sitting and ‘holding space’ in person with that young author. Honoring their truth in words and with your physical presence—it’s sort of like hugging them with your energy. I miss that.

What has been a highlight of your work with Pongo thus far?

One highlight that comes to mind is from my first year volunteering when we were working with adults at 1811. (1811 Eastlake is a supportive housing facility for formerly homeless adults with chronic alcohol use disorders) One of the men we worked with had some significant challenges with speaking. Each individual word was labored. On the mentor side, it was an exercise in extreme patience. I can only imagine what that was like for him, struggling to communicate every day. It took the whole session to work through one poem. But what a powerful moment when we were able to read his words back as a beautiful, flowing, lyrical poem. You could see in that moment that his sense of self had  transformed.

What keeps you coming back each week?
Every time I get to sit with and honor the truth of another person’s experience—especially those who are marginalized—I am fighting against that silencing. I get to say: You count. You matter. Your words count. Your experience matters. I get to be a mirror for their truth and hope they see how it shines.


I want to speak for
by Rebecca Richards-Diop

I want to speak for the girls
bound and muted
praised and powdered
into submission

for the girls
whose Spirits snapped easily—
like twigs too narrow for any fire

for the wide-eyed and wondering girls
who believed Trust was a temple
no one would trespass

for those same girls, perhaps,
who believed that
the Savior of Silence
would shelter and serve
    who returned
    day after day
    tenderly, dutifully
        suffusing its feet
        bringing slippers
        laying blossoms
    tiny body         
        in noiseless

I want to speak for the foreign and forlorn girls
whose questions weighed heavily-enough
to bend bodies into the shape of their seeking

and for the girl walking now with an earth-bound gaze
shuffling forward
into another today