The date was penned on my calendar: Poetry Reading, April 17, 1 p.m. I had nothing. I had known about this event since January. Well, I had a poem that I read two years earlier, however I did not want to repeat. One poem was a yes: the reading would take place in an art gallery exhibiting photography of New York City. Therefore, readers were encouraged to read a poem connected to New York City. Yet, I felt compelled to complete a new piece that I had been agonizing over for a year. Committing to this reading would force me to shape this idea.
As time grew closer, no shape came to this idea-Black English-and what I truly wanted to say about it. In my head were voices. One voice said: Black English is political; it separates. The other said: Girl, it’s our voice, it connects us to each other. My dilemma when I first noticed this terminology in a call to submit proposal papers: Is there White English? Did I miss the lesson on Black English during my 18 years of schooling? Although I had researched and read books, I was not connected to this term until Trayvon Martin shooting.
A few weeks after the shooting, I called a friend who was devastated. He said:”Why do they have to keep killing us? I’m tired of watching the bloodshed. You can’t imagine how many of my friends have taken a bullet by a white man just because.”
I prayed with him. But those prayers fell on deaf ears. He was angry. I could feel his anger. He is a black man, and he has a son. If he were my significant other, everyday that he walked out the door I would wondered is he coming home. My heart ached not only for him, but for the black race.
Ironically, my lamentation and rage for the black race resurrected after reading J. California Cooper’s novel The Wake in the Wind, then I met original Freedom Riders during Black History Month, and the icing on the cake was a history professor saying slavery would have eventually been dissolved. Well, that’s another post. Really. After the emancipation, it took 100 years for Civil Rights, and those rights are only 40 years young.
Hence, a prose poem spilled forth, after much prayer and deliberation.The first political statement I have made with my work. On April 17, I read this unfinished poem “Untitled” to a audience of 30 in which there sat one black man, and one black woman. The following Thursday night, I repeated the poem to a intergenerational audience of 50, ten African Americans in the mix. The following day, this poem was used in a writing workshop for 60 high school students.
At the end of each reading our voices were connected. Smiles, nods, imitations of this poem, and discussion about the black race ensued.
[This is our language]
This is our language.
It came to pass
when they tried to
reconstruct, re-slave us
with discrimination laws and employment policies.
Separate. Still not equal.
Freedom. No civil rights.
Our people: strange fruits hanging on southern trees–
Struggled to say, “I Sing too America”
Protested in marches
Boycotted the south
Screaming: “I’m Black and I’m Proud”
Capturing our power through our dialect.
Taint yall know
He my brotha
Here I is my sista
Hey man, what’s happenin’?
Well, Mr. Jones How do you do?
We are somebodys.
Cuz our language is our power:
Cultural, political, rhetorical
Phoneme, sentence, and story.
We turned bad to good
Rose from colored to Negro
from Black to African American
With a rally cry for unity:
“I’m Black and I’m Proud”