Every Tuesday, the Jason Taylor Foundation dedicates the day to spotlighting an individual or organization that has supported its tireless efforts toward building a better future for South Florida’s children in need.

This week, the spotlight shines on Marnino Toussaint, a poet, songwriter, and one of the Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network’s teaching artists.

Marnino’s involvement with the Jason Taylor Foundation came about unexpectedly. While finishing his senior year at Miramar High School, Mrs. Veneisha Clarington, the school’s creative writing teacher, approached Marnino in hopes of having him join the schools poetry club.

“At the time, the school did not really have an official poetry club. It was more or less a gathering of students under the supervision of Mrs. Clarington to read poems that we had created,” stated Toussaint.

Mrs. Clarington did not simply want Marnino to join the poetry club, but she also asked if he would be interested in entering a poetry slam that was being hosted at the school. At this time, Marnino was not really interested in writing poetry as his focus was on creating music.

“I was a rapper. I had never written a poem before,” stated Toussaint.

Marnino agreed to enter into the poetry slam, but planned to compete using one of his songs instead of a poem. The night before the slam, however, his high school sweetheart broke his heart, which led to a written expression that he was not accustomed to. That night, Marnino wrote his first poem and performed it the following day at the slam. He finished in the top 10 and advanced to the Miramar High School finals.

The finals consisted of a star-studded lineup featuring poets such as Desire Baptiste (the 2016 LTABFLA Indy Champion) and Jarah Prato (one of the original bluapple poets).

“I was nervous,” said Toussaint. “I was competing against these talented individuals. I am blessed to have won, especially against them.”

Marnino took home first place in the Miramar competition using the first poem that he had ever written.

Being the winner of the Miramar Slam, Marnino advanced to the bluapple District Poetry Slam, which became his first direct contact with the Jason Taylor Foundation.

“This was my first true interaction with the Foundation. I did not know a lot about them. I had previously met Mr. D through a virtual showcase, but I knew nothing about the Foundation nor bluapple.”

“Mr. D” is Darius Daughtry, the Director of bluapple Poetry Programs for the Jason Taylor Foundation. Darius and Marnino met during an online program that virtually connects students from different schools to create a unique learning experience. During their virtual meeting, Marnino sang one of his rap songs to Darius instead of a poem.

“I remember Mr. D saying, ‘did you ever think about slowing down and taking time with your words?’” said Toussaint. “At that point I really hadn’t, but that soon changed.”

Entering the bluapple District Slam, Marnino became extremely nervous. He stated that his nervousness turned to confidence through some encouraging words from Seth Levit, Executive Director of the Jason Taylor Foundation.

“We had to submit our poems to the Foundation prior to the competition so they could be screened and approved,” said Toussaint. “I remember Seth coming up to me on the day of the competition and saying, ‘Are you Marnino? You sent me your poem at 3a.m. and I do not know why, but I felt the urge to read it and it was so good that I had to read it to my wife as well. You are really talented.’”

Once Marnino’s nerves had subsided, his writing, performance and overall talent led him to finish third in the bluapple slam, placing along with Zoharian Williams and Douglas Goodridge, two of the networks more experienced poets at the time.

“I remember thinking these guys are experts at this kind of stuff so for them to think my work was good is a pretty good feeling,” stated Toussaint.

Marnino’s instant success evolved into a much greater level of involvement with the bluapple Poetry Network. As bluapple launched Louder Than A Bomb Florida, Marnino stepped into the role of a teaching artist, participating in a 20-week residency within four different schools preparing for the unique 12-day festival highlighted by a friendly spoken-word competition between school-based poetry teams representing high schools across multiple school districts.

Marnino’s passion for poetry and the program itself was recognized by Darius, who brought him on board as a bluapple Poetry Network assistant in addition to his teaching artist responsibilities. He has represented bluapple in Chicago for the LTAB National Symposium and formalized a spoken word club on the campus of Broward College.

Now one of the more recognizable faces of the Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network, Marnino can be seen hosting open mic nights, speaking and performing on behalf of the Foundation for multiple organizations across South Florida and he is instrumental in the planning and execution of nearly all blaupple programs and events.  Marnino continues to serve as a mentor to many young poets who wish to express themselves artistically, and he is now thankful for the impact bluapple, and poetry in general, has had on his life.

“I still produce music, but I believe that poetry is my real passion now,” said Toussaint.

Sam Spina