Ai Elo

Writer and youth advocate, Charlotte, NC

I feel like I was taught to lie, in some ways, about who I was. My church experiences taught me how to push down a part of myself. I had to confront that. I had to allow myself to like who I was. I struggled with believing that God loved me and that I love myself. I learned to look at my spiritual practice as a way of prioritizing my own health, my own wellness – prioritizing my joy.

A glimpse of the video

Ai Elo grew up attending the Florida-based church where her grandfather pastored.

Early on, she looked to the church as a welcome respite from the chaos and neglect that she experienced at home. However, she soon found that she had to suppress parts of her identity in order to be fully accepted by her family and the congregation, forced to wear dresses so that she would present as more feminine and to deny her attraction to women.

Her home church actively condemned homosexuality through repetitious devotional statements that members were asked to repeat.

By her early teen years, Ai Elo grew disenchanted with the church and estranged from her family. In her late teens she moved to New York to start a new life and to explore her sexuality. At 23, she is still doing the work to heal from these experiences and to reconnect with her family.

Ai Elo’s bio

Ai Elo knows that words wield power to transform the landscape of our hearts, lives, and communities.

Her work as a poet, queer youth activist, and workers’ rights advocate have put rifts in sociopolitical terrain.

  • As an Occupy Wall Street vet she fed hundreds of New York City’s underserved from an outdoor kitchen in Zuccotti Park made solely of donated goods.
  • She’s mobilized restaurant workers in successful campaigns to change minimum wage laws in New York.

In the world of poetry, Ai Elo

  • Was an Urban Word 2008 Finalist and ranked 20th in the world in the 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam;
  • Was team captain of the Jacksonville Slam Team, which ranked 4th in the world at the Brave New Voices International Competition in 2009;
  • Was featured in the Knicks Poetry Slam Documentary as a finalist;
  • Performed with musician Ali Jackson and writers, Jessica Care Moore and LaTasha Diggs at the Jazz at Lincoln Center in partnership with Hope Boykin and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company; and
  • Is a featured poet in the Leeds, England Young Authors Film Documentary.

As a Cave Canem fellow and Pauli Murray Fellow, life has blown her from city to city leading youth writing workshops in schools and detention centers, pissing off Bloomberg, and reading from her chapbook of poems Don’t Stop. I Like it.

Find her ranting at