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 8th year in 2020!

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

Youth Program Developer

Salwa Abdussabur is a local spoken word artist and activist who identifies as queer or non-binary. In the past year, they were a youth teaching artist and organizer for the Citywide Youth Poetry Jam. When Salwa is not "spitting bars", teaching poetry they, or busting tables they are speaking their truth at rallies and marching for social justice.

Salwa is involved in various community works, however dedicates their time as a key leader with The LGBTQ+ Kickback and is currently working on a campaign #Speakforyurself on the intersecting needs of safety housing and job for queer and trans youth. Salwa hopes that through their poetry, marching, rallying, and organizing that minority youth, in not just New Haven, but in this country and throughout the world will get the opportunities and resources they deserve to thrive and not just survive. Despite all that they know it starts within yourself and within your community.

Development Director

Hanifa Nayo Washington is a singer/song writer, spoken word artist, and Forum Theatre enthusiast who graduated from Beloit College in 2001 with a B.A. in Communications & Russian & Soviet Studies. The motto at Beloit College is “Invent Yourself.” Hanifa has had the opportunity to do just that over the past 15 years.


Hanifa has developed and taught youth programs throughout Connecticut, co-founded a food justice cooperative in Portland, Maine, and engaged in seven years of at-sea education programs both aboard and in the board room.  In her 10+ years of leading youth to excellence, she has guided youth service projects domestically and abroad, worked with homeless teens and engaged youth in the local-foods movement.  Hanifa's creative artistry is shaped by two distinct forces: first is the force of celebration—a force that captures story and core meaning; second is the force that thrives to create order and inclusive structure within self, relationships, home, business and community.


Hanifa lives in New Haven’s Westville Village, loves strawberries and her beloved cat Kiki. More at handsofhanifa.com.

Artistic Director

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 aaronjafferis.com.