On Monday night, at a downtown Baltimore soul food cafe, the afro/brown/mixed/supposedly-post-racial kids ate their chicken fingers and talked about Ferguson. About blackness. About justice.
They read poems. They read Danez Smith: “bring the boy. his new name/his same old body. ordinary, black/dead thing. bring him & we will mourn.” They read poems as a form of protest. They wrote poems as a form of protest.
Strangers turned around to watch them, these children who seemed to know too much and feel too deeply. On pushed-together tables strewn with take-out containers, the kids discussed history’s sorrowful circularity.
I’m starting to see, one of them said, that we may be going through the same things our grandparents, our great-great-grandparents went through.
There’s a difference between our forefathers fighting for our rights and us fighting for our rights, someone else said. The difference is that they actually fought. And isn’t it better to fight back than to just take it, lying on your back, the gun, the trigger pulled then?
Khaliah Williams, one of the organizers, told the kids to write freely, to write what they feel.
“If you are a young black person I don’t think you have any other choice but to be raw,” Williams later said.
One by one, the kids stood up and read their work. Some of them opened with an apology. Sorry, but I gotta be honest. There were nods, snaps.
“We talk to our children a lot,” said Williams, a high school counselor. “But I don’t know if we’re always listening to how they feel.”
Afiya Ervin, 15, delivered her poem about why, finally, she was putting words to black pain. “Hopefully one day the scratches of my pen can uplift the mother, uplift the country, and uplift our people above the wet, dark backs of our ancestors,” she recited, in a voice that stuttered at first but grew stronger.
That night, Williams saw some parents writing as well, one father scribbling notes.
Everything wrapped up by 9. It was a school night, after all.
Christian Pearson, 13
Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School
The New Jim Crow
Hey, whaddaya know?
It’s our friend Jim Crow.
And nowadays he’s
Running America’s show.
Took Mamie Till’s son
And Michael Brown in Ferguson
Get us running from the cops
And cleaning blood with mops.
Believing old pains and forgotten sorrow,
African Americans, meet the New Jim Crow.
Afiya Ervin, 15
Baltimore City College High School
I’ve never written about this topic because the silence
Of my pen will never be as strong, never be as deep, never
Be as stifling as the moment of silence from a mother.
I’ve never written about this topic because I’m afraid.
I’m afraid that the next teenage black boy face will be
The face of my brother, I’m afraid I’ll see his instagram selfie with a black and white filter on
The news and I’m afraid of seeing hoodies with his face on them.
I’m afraid of seeing pictures of his dead body on the street for 4.5 hours.
I’ve never written about this topic because I
Know a little black girl like me will never be heard because of
The white patriarchy in my community, in my country.
I’ve never written about this topic, but I’m starting now.
I’m starting to write because one day, hopefully another little
Black girl won’t be scared for her brother, father, or friend. Hopefully
A black male can hope for a future instead of hoping
For the ability to walk down the street.
I’ve finally started writing because hopefully one day the scratches
Of my pen can uplift the mother, uplift the
Country, and uplift our people above the wet, dark backs of our
Ancestors and break the chains we’ve been carrying since we were taken
From our African Empires to work for the stripes and stars that have
Held us down for centuries.
I’ve finally started writing.
Storm Lee, 19
Community College of Baltimore County
Gather round, we’re here to talk about Ferguson
Ferguson heard of sin from those who serve to defend
So why do they keep hurting our men?
Hurting our friends, it hurts to pretend
Like everything is alright when the hurt is within
Oh, but don’t let me get a gun, put that hurt into them
Cause that’s wrong, right? Like ain’t no value in us?
I put my life inside your hands, you took my value of trust
How can I ever feel safe when your values corrupt
And what’s worse, I’m young and black, court won’t put up a fuss.
“Sigh.” I could’ve become a doctor at best
Save the life to save a life, cops lost the memo I guess
He lost a brother, she lost a friend they can’t ever get back
If justice isn’t served, how long in peace can we rest?
Terrell Kellam, 19
Morgan State University
Bitten by the teeth that tear
Left to die without a care.
These are the souls they cry for.
These are the souls they cry for. The souls that were
Young who no longer run
Who lie beneath soiled expressions.
Kyemah Clark, 17
The Bryn Mawr School
she delicately and intricately paints the
rose pink polish on each of my toes.
She adorns me with her wisdom, beauty,
and everything to make me a better
piece of humanity in this huge ass
puzzle of confusion in the world.
All people cannot see this. All people cannot
witness this. All people cannot fathom the
minute moments of serenity and common
appreciation when they see a mother painting her daughter’s toes.
Maybe they cannot see because they are blind and basic.
Maybe because they know that what lies
between my thighs is able to bore a son or daughter into this world.
Maybe it’s because of the melanin in my skin
that reflects gold when wet and red when I’m hot.
After all, all I wanted was a pedicure from my mother.
Dawnya Johnson, 17
Seton Keough High School
As young black people we’ve been nested into a false sense of security. We’ve been pushed to think that the system we were born into is trying to work in our interest. But we’ve been fooled. In a nation where your skin color determines whether or not you will “hurt” the person whose paycheck you and your parents pay, you’re not safe. I know that despite current events, this has happened before and it will happen again.
Why? We ask. Why does this happen to us?
Because we as black people have not been granted the same level of opportunity as white people in this country, and we’ve allowed it. We’ve allowed a country that our great, great, great grandparents built. Brick by brick on my grandfather’s back. White baby by white baby on my grandmother’s hop. I understand how this happened through.
When you lose, and lose, and lose; you eventually give up. The black community gave up, went into a state of shock. We have a mission now, though.
Now we are charged with the mission of liberating black people. Not just marching on Washington, not just boycotting the systems that already exist. Building our own, supporting our own, developing our own. This is the job of our generation and the only chance of liberation in a system that wasn’t built for blacks, hispanics, women, or anyone who’s not an old white rich guy. This is an opening. Will we take it?