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Poem: Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

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Poem: Death is passive. Killing is not.

This poem came from frustration with the passive language most media use to report state-sanctioned murder and police brutality. They say “the death of” this person or that person, as if the person died in an unremarkable way. They speak of people who “lost their life” as if the opportunity to reclaim lost life is available. A more accurate wording would be “life was taken.” Life was stolen. Life was destroyed by someone who had no right to take a life.

Death is passive. Killing is not.
On the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breyonna Taylor and George Floyd

Death is a passive word.
There is no story attached to death.

Killing is an active word.
Someone does something:
Killer killed.

There’s always a story attached to a killing.
Who did the killer kill?
Why did the killer target the victim?
How was the victim killed?
Will the killer be prosecuted?
Is the killer still breathing?
Why do killers kill?

People who kill inherently believe
They are judge, jury and executioner.
They are the law,
Inhabiting space above, beyond
and around societal norms.
They enjoy an extrajudicial existence.
The law as we know it
needs to be eliminated.
We need to write new laws.
We need to establish new societal norms.
Killers need to know
Murder is not something else
Because of their badge
Skin color or family connections.
Murder is an intentional act.
It is purposeful destruction of an active life.
Murderers think they have the right
To take away life.
To steal another person’s breath.
To extinguish a human being’s light.
They do not have that right.

Witnesses need to name names.
Supervisors need to hold perpetrators
Accountable for their violence, brutality
And abuse of authority.
Administrative leave is not enough.
Job termination is not enough.
Payouts to injured families is not enough.

Full accountability and prosecution
of killers is necessary.
No matter their uniform.
No matter their perceived goodness.
No matter their community.
A killer is a killer. Their victims
Don’t just die. They are killed.

Breathing is active.
Breath is sacred.
Air is life.
We are all created beings
with the same Right to Life
and unhindered breathing.
Access to air should not depend on
Assumptions, opinions, political views,
Occupation, wealth, social status,
Skin color, mood, hatred of fellow humans
or self-hatred. Access to air should
not require legislation.
Yet here we are.

There is a great lack of understanding in America,
An astonishing general ignorance across the continents,
Of an elemental natural truth:

The deeper you grind US into the ground,
The stronger OUR roots become.
One day, your tsunami of brutality
Will wash you and your generations
Out into the sea you brought US across,
While WE who are deeply rooted in the soil
Will not only still be standing,
But will be flourishing. Gloriously.

~ LaShawnda Jones, May 2020

#newpost #blog #poem #wordpress #policebrutality #murderbycop #murderismurder #kill #death #media #biasreporting #passive #active
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Poem: Gwendolyn Brooks: America in the Wintertime by Haki R. Madhubuti

Gwendolyn Brooks: America in the Wintertime

in this moment of orangutans, wolves, and scavengers,
of high heat redesigning the north & south poles
and the wanderings of new tribes in limousines,
with the confirmations of liars, thieves, and get-over artists,
in the wilderness of pennsylvania avenue,
standing rock, misspelled executive orders
on yellow paper with crooked signatures.
where are the kind language makers among us?
at a time of extreme climate damage,
deciphering fake news, alternative truths, and me-ism
you saw the twenty-first century and left us
not on your own accord or permission.
you have fought and fought most of the twentieth century
creating an army of poets who learned
and loved language and stories
of complicated rivers, seas, and oceans.
where is the kind green nourishment of kale and wheatgrass?
you thought, wrote, and lived poetry,
knew that terror is also language based
on denial, first-ism, and rich cowards.
you were honey and yes to us,
never ran from Black as in bones, Africa,
blood and questioning yesterdays and tomorrows.
we never saw you dance but you had rhythm,
you were a warrior before the war,
creating earth language, uncommon signs and melodies,
and did not sing the songs of career slaves.
keenly aware of tubman, douglass, wells-barnett, du bois,
and the oversized consciousness and commitment of never-quit people
religiously taking note of the bloodlust enemies of kindness
we hear your last words:
     america
     if you see me as your enemy
     you have no
     friends.
Source: Poetry (June 2017)
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Poem: Gwendolyn Brooks by Haki R. Madhubuti

 

Gwendolyn Brooks

she doesn’t wear
costume jewelry
& she knew that walt disney
was/is making a fortune off
false-eyelashes and that time magazine is the
authority on the knee/grow.
her makeup is total-real.
a negro english instructor called her:
       “a fine negro poet.”
a whi-te critic said:
       “she’s a credit to the negro race.”
somebody else called her;
       “a pure negro writer.”
johnnie mae, who’s a senior in high school said:
       “she and Langston are the only negro poets we’ve
       read in school and i understand her.”
pee wee used to carry one of her poems around in his
    back pocket;
       the one about being cool. that was befo pee wee
       was cooled by a cop’s warning shot.
into the sixties
a word was born . . . . . . . . BLACK
& with black came poets
& from the poet’s ball points came:
black doubleblack purpleblack blueblack beenblack was
black daybeforeyesterday blackerthan ultrablack super
black blackblack yellowblack niggerblack blackwhi-te-
       man
blackthanyoueverbes ¼ black unblack coldblack clear
black my momma’s blackerthanyourmomma pimpleblack
       fall
black so black we can’t even see you black on black in
black by black technically black mantanblack winter
black coolblack 360degreesblack coalblack midnight
black black when it’s convenient rustyblack moonblack
black starblack summerblack electronblack spaceman
black shoeshineblack jimshoeblack underwearblack ugly
black auntjimammablack, uncleben’srice black
       williebest
black blackisbeautifulblack i justdiscoveredblack negro
black unsubstanceblack.
and everywhere the
lady “negro poet”
appeared the poets were there.
they listened & questioned
& went home feeling uncomfortable/unsound & so-
       untogether
they read/re-read/wrote & rewrote
& came back the next time to tell the
lady “negro poet”
how beautiful she was/is & how she helped them
& she came back with:
       how necessary they were and how they’ve helped her.
the poets walked & as space filled the vacuum between
       them & the
lady “negro poet”
u could hear one of the blackpoets say:
       “bro, they been calling that sister by the wrong name.”

Haki Madhubuti, “Gwendolyn Brooks” from Don’t Cry, Scream © 1969 by Haki R. Madhubuti. Used by permission of Third World Press, Chicago, IL.

Source: Don’t Cry Scream (Third World Press, 1969)

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Update: I AM WOMAN Essay & Portrait Project

I spent the summer photographing women.

In February, I quit my corporate job with a determination to pursue my creative interests. Specifically, writing and photography. In the late spring I decided I wanted to chronicle this moment we’re living in by putting a camera and a mic in front of everyday women and asking them what their womanhood means to them.

I AM WOMAN is an essay and portrait book project that was born from a desire to give Women a platform to describe themselves. The catalyst for the idea was the state-sanctioned assault by police officers on Chikesia Clemons at a restaurant in Alabama. In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eI5F-AUVw) you can see two male officers yank on her arms, pull her out of her seat, throw her to the ground, sit on her, threaten to break her arm, choke her, expose her breasts, then flip her around by her neck and belt to put her face down on the restaurant floor. A third officer stands over her the whole time. Unfortunately, these videos are not uncommon. However, what stung was seeing male patrons in the background continue eating as if a dehumanizing physical, racial and sexual assault was not taking place in their presence. The only person trying to help Chikesia was her female friend who also filmed the assault. I am hard-pressed to imagine men sitting by so calmly had a white woman been so brutalized in their presence.

The foundation of the project is the desire to combat the idea of women as sexual objects. There has long been an extremely visceral hyper-sexualization of womanhood, girlhood, and the feminine form. For Black Women and Girls, we are sexualized, used, abused and discarded without even the defense of our humanity. We are inundated with images and words that render women as no more than shallow, one-dimensional receptacles for men/boys to deposit their disdainful waste into or to fixate on as a waste depository goal.

The title of the project derives from a combination of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” and the “I AM A MAN” signs used during the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. It’s unsettling that anyone still needs to declare their personhood in 2018, but here we are.

As a Black Woman, I want to explore and present the experiences of Black Women in America as the first stage of the project. I want to share the every day woman’s perspective of herself in an environment, culture and country that is intent on not acknowledging her except as a dehumanizing stereotype. Basically, I am tired of hearing and seeing what the world thinks of Black Women. I want to know what Black Women think of themselves.

Overall, in the larger Sisterhood of Womanhood, I know the struggle is universal. Across the United States, no matter what demographic groups we fall into, Women are essentially telling the same story. We aren’t seen. We aren’t valued. We are not respected. We have to fight for any measure approaching equality to a standard set by men. We may have different starting points, but for the most part we are all chasing the same goals: love, acceptance, appreciation and respect for our contributions.

I didn’t have any defined expectations for the contributors when I began, but I am surprised and humbled by the messages (read: heart) shared by the Women and Girls who have participated in the portrait sessions and submitted poems and essays so far.

Though the written submissions for Phase 1 is focused on Black Women, the initial portrait sessions were open to all women. From June to September, I offered free portrait sessions open to anyone interested in participating in the I AM WOMAN project. During this time, I photographed fifty-five Women and Girls across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. The goal of the photo-shoots was for the Women to represent the word they used to describe themselves. “I AM WOMAN. I am _________________.” Quite a few used more than one word. Of the sixty-three words collectively used to describe the participants of the portrait sessions, I’m glad to report “sexy” was not one. The most common words used for self-description were: Strong, Powerful/Power, and Love.

img_1969-e1538082503936.jpg
Word cloud of words used by portrait participants to describe themselves.

Happily, I have more than enough photos for the portrait portion of the I AM WOMAN book project. However, I am still seeking written contributions for Phase 1: Experiences of Black Womanhood in America. If you would like to contribute, please email Shawnda@Spirit-Harvest.com.

img_2001
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1391
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1390
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1389
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
Posted on Leave a comment

Update: I AM WOMAN Essay & Portrait Project

I spent the summer photographing women.

In February, I quit my corporate job with a determination to pursue my creative interests. Specifically, writing and photography. In the late spring I decided I wanted to chronicle this moment we’re living in by putting a camera and a mic in front of everyday women and asking them what their womanhood means to them.

I AM WOMAN is an essay and portrait book project that was born from a desire to give Women a platform to describe themselves. The catalyst for the idea was the state-sanctioned assault by police officers on Chikesia Clemons at a restaurant in Alabama. In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eI5F-AUVw) you can see two male officers yank on her arms, pull her out of her seat, throw her to the ground, sit on her, threaten to break her arm, choke her, expose her breasts, then flip her around by her neck and belt to put her face down on the restaurant floor. A third officer stands over her the whole time. Unfortunately, these videos are not uncommon. However, what stung was seeing male patrons in the background continue eating as if a dehumanizing physical, racial and sexual assault was not taking place in their presence. The only person trying to help Chikesia was her female friend who also filmed the assault. I am hard-pressed to imagine men sitting by so calmly had a white woman been so brutalized in their presence.

The foundation of the project is the desire to combat the idea of women as sexual objects. There has long been an extremely visceral hyper-sexualization of womanhood, girlhood, and the feminine form. For Black Women and Girls, we are sexualized, used, abused and discarded without even the defense of our humanity. We are inundated with images and words that render women as no more than shallow, one-dimensional receptacles for men/boys to deposit their disdainful waste into or to fixate on as a waste depository goal.

The title of the project derives from a combination of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” and the “I AM A MAN” signs used during the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. It’s unsettling that anyone still needs to declare their personhood in 2018, but here we are.

As a Black Woman, I want to explore and present the experiences of Black Women in America as the first stage of the project. I want to share the every day woman’s perspective of herself in an environment, culture and country that is intent on not acknowledging her except as a dehumanizing stereotype. Basically, I am tired of hearing and seeing what the world thinks of Black Women. I want to know what Black Women think of themselves.

Overall, in the larger Sisterhood of Womanhood, I know the struggle is universal. Across the United States, no matter what demographic groups we fall into, Women are essentially telling the same story. We aren’t seen. We aren’t valued. We are not respected. We have to fight for any measure approaching equality to a standard set by men. We may have different starting points, but for the most part we are all chasing the same goals: love, acceptance, appreciation and respect for our contributions.

I didn’t have any defined expectations for the contributors when I began, but I am surprised and humbled by the messages (read: heart) shared by the Women and Girls who have participated in the portrait sessions and submitted poems and essays so far.

Though the written submissions for Phase 1 is focused on Black Women, the initial portrait sessions were open to all women. From June to September, I offered free portrait sessions open to anyone interested in participating in the I AM WOMAN project. During this time, I photographed fifty-five Women and Girls across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. The goal of the photo-shoots was for the Women to represent the word they used to describe themselves. “I AM WOMAN. I am _________________.” Quite a few used more than one word. Of the sixty-three words collectively used to describe the participants of the portrait sessions, I’m glad to report “sexy” was not one. The most common words used for self-description were: Strong, Powerful/Power, and Love.

img_1969-e1538082503936.jpg
Word cloud of words used by portrait participants to describe themselves.

Happily, I have more than enough photos for the portrait portion of the I AM WOMAN book project. However, I am still seeking written contributions for Phase 1: Experiences of Black Womanhood in America. If you would like to contribute, please email Shawnda@Spirit-Harvest.com.

img_2001
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1391
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1390
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.
img_1389
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.