Alumni Award Recipient Jaki Shelton Green ’71

Photo credit: Sylvia Freeman

Jaki Shelton Green ’71 has taken on many professional roles throughout her career, including working as a paralegal, holding positions in the non-profit sector, and in 2018, she was appointed the first African American and third woman Poet Laureate in North Carolina.

Jaki’s journey to George School is an interesting one. Growing up in segregated Orange County, North Carolina, like many other segregated places across the country, was a challenging and fascinating time. Jaki was not permitted to attend school with white children. “The 1960s were a hotbed of confusion,” commented Jaki. “It was a rebellious time for me and other black students.”

In high school, where she was bused to a desegregated school, Jaki and a group of her peers initiated a walkout and presented a list of grievances that addressed the lack of African American studies in the curriculum. Additionally, Black students were not allowed to hold positions in student council or participate in school clubs and extracurricular activities. Black male athletes were welcomed on athletic teams, however. Jaki was expelled from school, but later allowed back because her family threatened to bring legal actions against the Board of Education for infringing on her Constitutional rights. When she returned, she was labeled a “troublemaker” which impacted her grades. Jaki was suffering miserably.

Thanks to a friend of the family’s initiative, Jaki took placement tests, and her high scores landed her a full scholarship to a private prep school of her choice. She and her family selected the George School. The summer prior to attending George School, she attended A Better Chance (ABC) Program in Minnesota. The program recruits developing leaders among young people of color throughout the United States and hosts summer advanced academic programs.

“Attending George School gave me so much direction and I truly fell in love with my studies,” explained Jaki. ”I loved all my courses but especially enjoyed creative writing and dance. I was proud to have my poetry published by the school’s Arts Journal. There were students from all over the world and many became lifelong friends of mine.”

Following graduation, Jaki married and welcomed her first daughter, lmani. She attended Greater Hartford Community College in Connecticut where she majored in Early Childhood Education. She holds a master’s degree in Community Economic Development from the Development Training Institute, University of Maryland.

Many years later, Jaki’s current husband asked her if she could do anything right now, what would she do. Without hesitation, she told him she wanted to retire from her work as Director of Development for and become a fulltime writer. “I have been writing since I was a small child, thanks to my grandmother’s encouragement and her belief in the value of literacy,” she explained.

Since turning to writing as a career, Jaki, a resident of Mebane, North Carolina, has authored eight collections. In 2019, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. She currently teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.

Jaki has performed her poetry and taught workshops extensively throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, Central and South America and North Africa. Her poetry has been choreographed by the Chuck Davis African Dance Ensemble in conjunction with the Kennedy Center and the Nasher Museum at Duke University; Two Near the Edge Dance Company; Chorea-Collective; Danca Nova Dance Company, in conjunction with the Colorado Naropa Dance Institute; Miami City Ballet; and most recently Elon University Dance Department; North Carolina Central University Dance Department; and the Justice Theatre.

In 2003, Jaki received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the highest honor the state can bestow. She is the 2007 recipient of the Samuel Talmadge Ragan Award for her contributions over an extended period to The Fine Arts of North Carolina. In 2009, she was chosen to be the inaugural North Carolina Piedmont Laureate. She is also a member of the prestigious North Carolinian Society.

She is the owner of SistaWRITE, providing writing retreats and travel excursions for women writers in Sedona Ari zona, Ocracoke North Carolina, Agadir Morocco, and TuIlamore Ireland.

The George School Alumni Award recognizes alumni who have used their talents, expertise, and personal commitment to make a positive impact on those around them. “As a child, I was made to feel left out and labeled. Throughout my career, I have always chosen paths that have allowed me to help others and have their voices heard. Now, as poet laureate for North Carolina, I can honor individuals’ stories and voices and create spaces where those voices are amplified.”

Jaki will accept her award during a virtual Alumni Weekend ceremony.

More News