World Poetry Day 2017

I have a number of unfinished poems in my notebooks that I wish were in shareable condition. But they aren’t, so I can’t share them (yet). But there is a poem that is I want to share by Langston Hughes…two poems actually. I found these two poems in  school library books many years ago. I made sure to add the anthologies I found them in to my bookshelf.

The first poem is from a collection called, “I Am The Darker Brother.” (The book is still in print. I highly recommend adding this to your collection!)

Me and the Mule

My old mule,
He’s got a grin on his face.
He’s been a mule so long,
He’s forgot about his race.

I’m like that old mule –
Black-and don’t give a damn!
You got to take me
Like I am.

This is a short, sweet, and to the point poem, but it has so much attitude it makes me smile every time I read or even think of it. If the mule is free to be his authentic self, why shouldn’t a black man enjoy the same liberty?

The second poem is more poignant. This poem can be found in a collection called, “American Negro Poetry.” I also recommend this collection for your bookshelf.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor-
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now-
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

This is a message that every parent has for their child: Do your best; Don’t give up; If I can do it, you can do it and do it better. You find in this piece that the mother may not have a great education – indicated by her broken english – but she pressed on in the hopes that her son would witness her efforts and follow her lead.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. His full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes.  He was one of several key figures of group of black writers called The Harlem Renaissance. Hughes died on May 22, 1967. Click the links to read more about Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance.

Photo credit: Portrait of Langston Hughes. Photo by Gordon Parks / Library of Congress.

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Be Quiet

Shhh! Be quiet!
Don’t let your voice be heard!
Don’t disrupt my bliss
by pointing out
that your house is on fire.
Don’t tell me about the arsonist
we both witnessed lighting the fire.
Hearing such horrible news
stresses me out!
Tell me what you plan to
make for dinner.
Show me a basket of kittens.
Pull up a chair,
pour yourself a glass of wine,
and let me tell you how much money
I lost in the stock market
when that law abiding citizen
set your house on fire.
Hush now! Be quiet!
Don’t speak at all!
If you pretend nothing is wrong,
that burned out
shell of a home you have left
will seem quite luxurious.
You really should do something
about that, though.
It’s pulling down the value
of my home.
Shhh!! Be quiet!!
As a matter of fact,
why don’t you just
go away…
Quietly.

Photo source: https://leithincluan.wordpress.com/tag/derailing/

1000 Words

Last May, the official White House photographer, Pete Souza, shared some of his favorite pictures of the Obama family and staff, taken over the last eight years. Some of the images that touched me the most, were the pictures of the president interacting with children. He didn’t just hold and kiss babies for the photo op. He engaged them. He ignored the cameras and got down on their level. He spoke with kids like they were people – because they are people.

There are two pictures that stood out to me the most. Pete Souza didn’t just capture a moment in history. He documented legacy.

Below is a picture of little Clark Reynolds meeting the Barack Obama. This is the first president Clark has ever known, a man that looks like him. He probably doesn’t understand that the man touching his cheek is the first American president of African descent. But for the relative standing behind him, this moment is so much more. She brought Clark to see a possibility that used to be something she didn’t think would happen in her lifetime. They are standing in this moment together. Barack Obama gently touching Clark’s cheek seems to say, “You’re next,” and there’s no reason for him to doubt that one day he can be the president when he grows up.

1000

The second picture (below) is one of Souza’s more popular captures. This picture of Jacob Philadelphia was taken in 2009, shortly after Barack Obama took office. Jacob was five years old at the time, and seemed to know there was something peculiar about this particular man being the president. His classmates told him he looked just like the president. He had to investigate this notion. So, when his family visited The Oval Office to take a picture with the president,  Jacob took the opportunity to ask the president if their hair felt the same. The president bent down to Jacob’s level and allowed him to touch his hair. This picture could easily be titled, “Are You Real?” At that time, most Americans were still surprised that we really had an African-American president. This image expresses the shock and wonder many of us felt in the days following the 2008 election.

Author Jamila E. Gomez says about this image, “When possibility stands so close, you can literally touch it. And it looks and feels just like you.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

See more of Pete Souza’s work, here.
See The Guardian article by Jonathan Jones, here.

3500

Being Black in America

Earlier this week, I wrote a post called Back to Life. I mentioned in that post, one of the reasons I haven’t posted anything over the last couple of months was because I was frustrated about the most recent rounds of police shootings and I didn’t feel like I had the words to clearly express my thoughts. I still don’t feel completely ready to discuss it. But there are two things that have occurred in my community over the last two weeks that have added to my sadness and frustration.

The First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Delaware decided to stand with the black community. This congregation of mostly white parishioners decided to post signs on their property that say, “Black Lives Matter.” Since the signs have been erected, vandals have repeatedly cut the word “black” out of the sign. They’ve received angry phone calls and threats. The church has replaced the signs, and even left a message and invitation to discuss the concerns of the vandals. Their dedication to the message gives me hope, especially when so many of my white friends have been silent.

Ivan Thomas is a local filmmaker. You can take a look at his work on his page, http://detvch.com/.  A friend shared a video blog he posted earlier this week. His story broke my heart. Again, the incident he describes happened in our city. He and his son were verbally assaulted and physically attacked at a state park by two individuals who perceived him to be a threat, simply because he’s black. I’ve posted his video below. There were several things that he said in the video that I struggled with. He certainly handled the situation well, but there was one thing he said about the life of black people stuck out the most: [As a black person] Your number one job is to come home. That’s a tough lesson to have to teach your child. It’s 2016. We shouldn’t have to tell our kids that blackness comes with such a risk.

 

Emancipated

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Silence is a sweet symphony to my ears,
A comfortable bed to take my rest.
The absence of demand and insistence is a warm,
plush blanket tucked around me.
My spirit is unbothered.
My heart tastes the sweetness of freedom.
I am bound no more!
As light as a bubble,
A feather levitating on a gentle breeze.
Gravity can’t hold me down.
What once was a burden,
bends my back no more.
No man claims me as property.
I am free to stay where I am,
but free to go as I please.
I can choose of my own accord,
and forevermore
I choose to be free.

The Bridge to Freedom

Happy Thursday! Today’s #TBT piece is about the past. There are many who say we should forget this period of history because it was ugly and is painful. It’s important to continue to tradition of passing the stories from one generation to the next.

Nikewrites Blog

Grand-daddy always told us stories
Of his days as a slave and a share cropper.
To look at him,
You would never know
That he could be forced to submit
to someone who claimed ownership over him.
He was a tall, muscular man
Who walked with his shoulders back
And his head held high.
Proud.
Who could rule over him?
But it happened.
He was pulled away from his wife
And children,
Sold to another home,
Miles away from the ones his loved.
He was made to work in the fields,
In the heat,
With a sack to collect the harvest
Over his shoulder and his back bent.
He told us that the work was hard.
The overseers were harder
And would walk the lash across his back
Until his shirt was tattered,
And the flesh on his back opened up,
Leaving crimson stains
On the fabric.
He said,
“You…

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Maya Angelou

I needed a day to process the news that Maya Angelou passed away. Of course, I know that nobody lives forever, but it didn’t stop me from hoping she would always be around. I wanted to meet her and sit at her feet and listen to whatever wisdom she chose to bless me with. That opportunity is gone.

I regret that I wasn’t able to make it to the University of Delaware last year when she came to speak. I loved listening to her speak! She chose her words very deliberately. She didn’t rush. It seemed to me like she saw all the possible words she could use hovering in her mind, and would pluck the perfect word and drop it into her sentence. I marveled at her ability to say things in the most perfect way. She had a brilliant mind.

I read her books and poetry as a teenager and was amazed by her story. I thought she was bold and courageous. It takes a great deal of courage to share the deepest details of your life with people you know. It takes a greater deal of courage to share, not just to good times, but some of the darker times of your life with the world, in writing. That’s bold. (Memoirs are not an easy thing to write, especially if some of the key players in your life story are still alive!) I appreciated her openness.  I was amazed that one person did so much in her life. She travelled, she sang, she acted, she danced, she raised a child, and became a teacher. She was open to life! She LIVED.

I cannot recall which book the quote below was in, but I adopted it as a good way to handle life.

“Hope for the best, be prepared for the worse. Life is shocking, but you must never appear to be shocked. For no matter how bad it is it could be worse and no matter how good it is it could be better.”  – Maya Angelou

Her passing isn’t a total surprise. As I said, nobody lives forever. I’m glad to hear that she still writing, her mind was still working and she was still active until she passed. She lived, and I am so grateful for that.

Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014

Is My Child Next?

I’m sharing this post again. I received an interesting comment this morning about the picture I used. The verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the George Zimmerman case earlier this week has a lot of people either talking about race or trying to run from it. But in the words of Iyanla Vanzant, “Sometimes you have to call a ‘thing’ a ‘thing.’ That time is now.

 

Nikewrites Blog

Be forewarned: This post is not for the faint of heart or anyone looking for my usual happy-go-lucky post. I’m speaking as a Black Parent.

On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death as he walked home. He wasn’t purchasing drugs. He wasn’t robbing anyone. He wasn’t a part of a gang. He was a straight A student, walking home from the store with a pack of candy and a beverage. A self-appointed neighborhood watch “captain”, George Zimmerman, saw a black male walking through HIS neighborhood and decided that the young man was up to no good. He followed him while he spoke with a 911 operator and shot the young man. He claimed he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense. The police took him at his word. As of the date of this post, he has not been arrested.

Most of you already know that Trayvon…

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Real or Imagined?

Like many people across the world, I have watched the Olympic Games each day since it’s start.  My favorite sports to watch are Gymnastics, Swimming and Track and Field.

On August 3rd, I watched as Gabby Douglas took the gold in the individual event.  Following her win NBC’s sports commentator, Bob Costas, made some comments that rubbed me the wrong way.  I found a portion of his comments on yahoo:

“You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics,” Costas intoned, his besuited left elbow resting comfortably on the anchor desk. “The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.”

The comment would have been more effective if Bob Costas simply congratulated Gabrielle Douglas  for the win, instead of pointing out her race, and then telling the African American community that the barriers we notice on a day-to-day basis don’t exist.  Maybe he should talk to Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson.  Maybe they imagined their pastor telling them they couldn’t get married at the church they attended because they were black.  Maybe Gabrielle imagined having to leave the comfort of her home and family to live in an unfamiliar community just so she could get the best possible training for the Olympics.  After all, the black community is overrun with top-notch gymnastic coaches.  Maybe I imagined that Costas did not make reference to  Jordyn Weiber’s or Alexandra Raisman’s ethnicity.

Unfortunately, in his attempt to point out Gabby’s ability to inspire girls across racial lines, he demonstrates how significant race continues to be in 2012.  His comments confirm that Gabby is a Black gymnast: black first, gymnast second. We have come a long way, but we still have quite a bit of work to do.  Bob Costas, you could have congratulated the young lady, without insulting a whole community.

To Gabrielle Douglas:

Congratulations on winning the Gold!  You were focussed, strong and determined! You are an inspiration to us all!  Well done, young lady. Well done!  Now…on to Rio!!! 😀