HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4)– A sophomore at Valor Christian High School will compete in Washington, D.C. as part of the Poetry Out Loud national champion. Jesca Gilbert is awarded for reciting other poets’ stories, but its her own story that deserves a prize.

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“When I was younger I was begging on the street with my mom. My birth mom,” said Jesca.

The sophomore used to live in Uganda with her mother, but she died when Jesca was 5 years old.

(credit: Shane Gilbert)

Former documentarian Shane Gilbert met Jesca when she was on assignment in Uganda in 2004. She hoped to come back with an award-winning story, but instead she brought home an award-winning daughter.

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“I think it was supernatural God telling me ‘Here’s your new life path.’ Every step along the way since I met Jesca was the thing I was supposed to do. She’s the greatest joy of my life,” said Shane.

After Shane adopted Jesca, they traveled to Indonesia for better opportunities. Once it became time for Jesca to go to high school, her mother brought her to America for a better education. Unfortunately, parts of Jesca’s past came with her.

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“She struggles with some learning disabilities and it’s all from trauma of being a street kid,” explained Shane.

She suggested Jesca take up poetry to improve her long and short-term memory. As Jesca’s memory improved, so did her poems.

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“Me, being able to read someone else’s poem and interpret it in a different way is why I like it. Also, making sure that the audience understands it and loves it too,” said Jesca.

She uses her past trauma and experience to bring power and emotion to her readings.

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Now Jesca and her mother are hoping for a national win, inspired by the country where it all began.

“It shows how many boundaries I’ve been able to overcome and I can represent Uganda really well, too! Hard work pays off. I can see that right now,” said Jesca.

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The pair will fly to Washington, DC next week to compete against the other 49 state winners in the national championship.

Tori Mason

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