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The Word is a spoken word poetry education program helping students learn to read, critique, write, and perform poetry created by New Haven hip hop poet & playwright Aaron Jafferis, in partnership with the Institute Library, the Future Project and New Haven Public Schools. The Word is celebrating its 11th year in 2023!

We work with middle school and high school students across the city of New Haven from over 8 different schools.

Artistic Director

Award winning American Artist Tarishi "M.I.D.N.I.G.H.T.” Shuler altered the status quo of the spoken word art scene by presenting an ingenious style of delivery using clever metaphors and a dance between two dimensional storylines.


Resonating with audiences nationwide, by 2011, Tarishi had begun dominating stages with his dramatic performances taking home numerous awards year after year and raising the bar for his counterparts. Often abrupt, always gracefully delivered yet playfully unfiltered, his poetry hangs in an intrinsic balance of raw truth and art imitating life.



Among his many accolades, Tarishi has opened for notable individuals such as Saul Williams, Grammy nominated Neo-Soul Artist Dwele, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Def Jam Comedian Talent and former US President Bill Clinton. In 2020, he shared a staged with Omari Hardwick at Da' Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, California and at the end of 2021 he was the feature and host of the legendary "Poet's Passage" in San Juan Puerto Rico.


A native of Connecticut, he spend a few years living in Brooklyn, NY to elevate his talents. You can find Tarishi modeling, acting, body building, teaching or directing while also discovering new audiences in stages close to home, and as far as Tokyo, Japan.

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Project Coordinator

Jenny (JHD) Heikkila Díaz (they/she) was born and raised in Los Ángeles.  Witnessing their family’s immigration experiences and the LA Civil Uprising of 1992 seeded JHD’s desire to coalition build within their own Korean American and Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and across communities of color.  For almost twenty-five years, JHD has worked as a K-12 public school teacher, school administrator, and educator coach, co-creating classrooms and school communities where students see their families and themselves reflected and valued and where they learn about others’ cultures and communities.  They have done this work with thousands of students, families, and educators in Baltimore, South (Central) LA, Long Beach (CA), Echo Park, Queens, and across CT.  They are the CT Council for the Social Studies Professional Learning Coordinator and a Program Officer at Fund for Teachers.  They also facilitate statewide teacher communities of practice as an Anti-Racist Teaching & Learning Collective Steering Committee Member (for educators of color), and as an Activist in Residence with the UConn Asian and Asian American Studies Institute (supporting K-12 CT teachers with integrating AAPI studies into their curriculum).  They are a New Havener, a co-founder of aapiNHV, Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific American Coalition of CT, an Abolitionist Teaching Network Grant Recipient, and most importantly, a parent of two elementary-aged children.  Their lifelong commitment is to backing youth, who envision an even more joyful and just world than they do.

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Managing Director

​​Beth has been working with nonprofits since 2001. She is passionate about poetry, spoken word, rap, hip hop and is excited to bring her nonprofit experience to The Word. Beth holds a MBA, MS, graduate Marketing certificate and a BA in Psychology. She has experience with grant research, budgets, reporting, authoring grants, operational management, staff development and supervision. She has worked with ages 3 to geriatric population  in various forms such as crisis social work, case management, therapy in home, school and communities. Beth has both project and program management experience with many different populations. She is passionate in her believe that all voices are meant to be heard AND that EVERY VOICE DOES MATTER. She works hard to find the funding needed for the different projects so that the Teaching Artists are able to bring their work to as many schools and youth as possible.  

In her free time she spends time with her 2 dogs Athena and Ares and enjoys painting abstract art

Artistic Associate 

Aaron Jafferis is a hip-hop poet and playwright whose honors include a Creative Capital Award, Richard Rodgers Award, Sundance Institute / Time Warner Fellowship, NEFA National Theatre Project Grant, and multiple MacDowell Fellowships.


His musicals Stuck Elevator, How to Break, Kingdom, Shakespeare: The Remix and No Lie have been produced by The Old Globe, American Conservatory Theater, Collective Consciousness and many others. A former Open Rap Slam champion at the National Poetry Slam Championships, Aaron teaches at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital and in middle schools and high schools in and around his hometown of New Haven. He has led poetry and hip-hop theatre workshops and master classes at Connecticut College, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Virginia Tech, the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Breadloaf, Vermont’s Governor’s Institute on the Arts, Wesleyan’s Center for Creative Youth, the Dublin (CA) Federal Correctional Institution and dozens of other educational, healthcare, and correctional institutions. More at

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