High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Genesis Gonzalez

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its relatability. This work so clearly encapsulates the pressure of respectability and its insidious impact on young women. I am especially drawn to the complicated relationship the speaker has with wanting to please her father and her eventual self-realization and freedom.

 

The Apology


I am sorry

I say it too often.

Walking around with so much precaution.

What I want to say is

fuck tradition.

As a soldier, I was on a mission.

Make sure I am never too sexy;

only trained to be a Virgin Mary.

Or at least, that’s what I made myself believe.

I am sorry

I never realized

that God didn’t create me to be holy.

He made me to rewrite a story.

To cut down trees

rooted in the belief that I am not worthy.

I am worthy.

I am sorry

I kept myself so quiet.

Wore only long-sleeve shirts,

kept to a strict diet.

No mistakes, no drinking, no sex.

All to keep my father’s respect.

Followed the rules for eighteen years

and never realized I could come first.

I am sorry

I had to keep my head down,

And even on solid ground

the wet dreams embedded in men’s brains

made me feel like I might drown.

I fought the currents of the ocean,  

swimming and pleasing everyone but myself.

I am sorry

I always tried to be kind

even though I lost my peace of mind.   

Even though it made me feel out of place.

I did it all

to keep a smile on my father’s face.

 

 

IMG_1139 

Genesis Gonzalez is a high school senior from Cleveland. She enjoys photography, volunteering, and softball.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Robert Garrett

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its insistent rhyme that is both grounding and unsettling. The devastation is palpable, and the vision of a violence-free future is essential.


Shell

Life is an empty shell
because of a shell.
I wonder if you fly in the sky
or cry in hell?

I hope your killer rot in jail
in an uncomfortable cell.
As I sit back and reminisce
the memories bliss–

I remember the near miss that almost kissed
My skull instead
it leaked your lung
then the blood
ran down as your eyes hung.
Still, in that moment, it never seemed real.

Till I heard the sirens squill.
I still remember the feel I caught
the chills but didn’t cry, and I can’t
remember why, but I had this feeling
that day I should’ve died.

Time moved fast; it was your funeral now.
Tears dropped, hearts stopped
The room froze,
you could hear a penny drop
The preacher walked
to the stage, cleared his throat
and flipped the page.

Said a prayer to start
then read off your obituary–
your age,
the whole crowd sighed in dismay.

They said, “He was a good kid,”
“He had bright future,”
But all I thought about was the weapon
that took your life was a Ruger.

And as I sat I had a dream
like Martin Luther King Jr.
of a world filled with peace.
Man it was nice, you could walk down street
without looking twice.
You could walk at night
when the lights wasn’t bright
without hearing gunshots left and right.

Then reality set in, and I was back
in the war zone
where guns are easy to get in.
And at least once a day
somebody becomes “a dead man”.

A place where hope is destroyed
and the whole country wants to fit in.
With the depiction of weapons
that Hollywood is setting.

But they’re not showing the truth,
because the truth don’t sell.
We watch as it fails the youth
and floods the cells.

It’s time to break through the shell
of ignorance.
You can no longer
claim your innocence.

You just need to open your eyes;
they say it’s a beautiful world, but it’s a disguise.
Cause every other day, a child’s mother cries,
as their precious one floats to the sky.

At the hands of the “necessary evil,” the picture deceitful,
because if they get one, you get one, we all get one.

We need to change the soil
that is growing the seeds doing the bad deeds.
Like cutting the dead roots from sick trees.
Cause now we just watching the leaves
turn brown as the sun goes down
nobody looks around to notice that world
is a continuous run from danger.

The feeling when a stranger can rearrange
your life, wonder where we made a left
cause this world ain’t right.

IMG_1068

Robert Garrett is a high school senior who enjoys reading, social activism, and volunteering. He loves playing baseball and is a 4-year starting centerfielder. He is currently very busy applying to colleges.

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Naudia Loftis

14357_10102179256599178_3776714066354638082_n

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Naudia Loftis is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class and the Vice President of our high school’s Poetry Club. Her passions include writing, high stepping, and helping others. She recently organized a local anti-violence Cleveland youth rally.

Loftis’s poem addresses the inescapable topic of gun violence. Cleveland has had a deadly year. In recent months, we have seen indiscriminate shootings take the lives of at least three children. Loftis explains: “It is important for me to be an anti-violence activist in my community because I am a part of the next generation that will soon run the world, and I feel it is my responsibility to help move my community on a better path. I believe in change, which is not common in my neighborhood. So if it takes me saying something, I will.”

I chose this poem for its beautiful awareness of breaking. Loftis’s careful consideration of line breaks, her masterful rhyme, and her ability to capture Cleveland’s grief is surely worthy of much more than our attention and reflection. In this midst of this holiday season, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with such talented young poets. 

 

A Dead City

On September 23, 2009, my cousin, Reginald Fain, was shot a week before his 26th birthday by a boy he grew up with (and on the street they grew up on). It’s hard to imagine such tragedies happening so close to you, but this is our reality in Cleveland.

I’ve seen baby boys in gangs, sagging, cussing in slang
Following role models who show them which way to bang
Mommas crying in shame, media ripping their names
And after they get locked up, the hood is taking the blame
Nobody wants to speak up, but everybody wants change
I’ve watched my city die
Cause of street signs that we claim
The knife is in our heart
While the blood is leaving stains
And we’re witnessing bodies drop like we’re stuck in a Hellraid
My summer filled with gang shootings
Police sirens in the breeze
Holding hands like precious pearls
Not knowing who’s next to leave
‘Cause shooters just want the praise
And I’m stuck out in the rain
Contemplating the beast the city needs me to tame
Shards ripping our fabric smiles
And looping us on a chain
Holding us tied together and leaving our bodies slain
It’s hard for me to be sane
In a land that’s acting strange
Moving beyond murders and savages playing games
I’m pushing in hope to gain people who are brave
To help reclaim our city
‘Cause we’re the ones who remain.

 

 

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Jazmyn Alexander

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Jazmyn Alexander is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She loves hair, hanging out with friends, shopping, and reality T.V. shows. To be perfectly honest, Jazmyn and I got off to a rough start this year, but as the year progressed, Jazmyn felt incredibly connected and engaged with the material that we were learning. She says, “Before this class, I really didn’t care about feminism or women being treated poorly in the media. I didn’t pay much attention. I just thought a woman being degraded was the norm. When we learned about it, I felt like women have so much more to offer than being objectified for men. And we’re beautiful; we don’t have to get naked to show that we’re beautiful.”

Jazmyn’s rap is incredibly powerful. She addresses the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown. She says: “Writing this rap came easy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about justice. I wanted to stick to one person for each verse.” I feel especially connected to this poem’s chorus. I love the way it subverts our conception of what a contemporary rap encompasses.

See Jazmyn read her poem here.

He’s Gone

Verse 1:
Now Trayvon walkin down the street, swagged out with a hood and J’s on his feet.
Ain’t doing nothing but lookin at his phone, no worries but it was gone be a long way home.
He wasn’t ready for what was comin, if he only knew that he was gone get into somethin.
Tryna fight… for his life, with Zimmerman on his back he knew that something wasn’t right.
So he kept on walking, noticed he was being followed so he started talking…
The man was cruel, knew what he wanted to do.
With all the break-ins on his street this was a justice move.
Tray’s girl on the line, she wanna know if it’s okay, is it all fine?
He let her know, he had to call back, time to fight for his life cus he under attack.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Tray lost his precious life to a bullet hole
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Trayvon is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

Verse 2:
Then there was Eric too, chilled on the block listening to the humming blues.
He didn’t know how this day would go… Wasn’t knowing that he wasn’t gonna make it home.
Then a fight broke out, he tried to break it up but he got struck out.
(Make noise) he gasp for air, I can’t breathe, please let me go, please let me go
Cus I can’t breathe!
The police they choked him tight, aware of his asthma as he gasped for his life.
They didn’t care, they didn’t stop
Black man down, was the evidence that they got.
Taking this man’s life away, the public watched like dim to a brighter day.
This gotta end, where do we begin?
Rest in peace… Tray, Eric, Mike, and all black men.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Eric lost his precious life to a choke hold
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Eric is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Dion Pride

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Dion Pride is an eighteen-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. In his free time he enjoys writing, watching film, and participating in Cleveland’s community advocacy. At school he is involved with our Take Back the Night Campaign and event, he is an active member of Campus Ministry, and he participates as a member of the Men of Strength Organization.

I am constantly inspired by Dion’s compassion towards his family and his classmates. He is an activist who cultivates a culture of empathy in our classroom and community alike. I most enjoy the imagined conversation that takes place in this poem. This vital dialogue considers the courage needed to empower each other to stand up for equality.

In his own words: “Like in the past, no one person can get us there, we have to get us there. The energy of the youth and the wisdom of our elders. Together we can be the greatest force of change. Today, let us make the negro proud and show them how far the African American can go. Show them we won’t stop this time, until we are all free at last.”

See Dion read his poem here.

Be A Man

Yea, I’m a FEMINIST, I believe in equality.
So you believe that a woman is just as equal as you?
I do.

Do you think that we can have a woman leader?
There’s this real smart sweetie that live on Cedar
She can do the job.

There’s no way a woman can lead our nation–
We’ll be at World War III by her next menstrual cycle.
You say that now, but you would follower her
Like a boy on his bicycle
While you try to catch her in that Benz.

Women need to stay in they place.

So what is their place?

In the pages of a Secret catalog.
Let me tell you a secret real fast,

That girl is way more than a pretty face.
She can out school you and fool you.

When you were getting C’s and D’s,
She was getting A’s and B’s, trust and believe.
More than just a pretty face,
All women of all shapes and sizes
Meant to be equal by our God the highest.

But girls with bodies should show them and expose them.
Not for you, it’s not slavery, their sexuality is not for you to own.

But the media says…
Forget what the media says.
But politicians say…
Forget what politicians say,
They remind me of Homer from The Simpsons: rude, crude, and dumb.

It’s time for the wake up call,
It’s time to put your glasses on,
You don’t have to be worried about those wolves.
You have to worry about those foxes, those vixens–
Not those video vixens.

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Johnny Ward

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Johnny Ward is a senior in my Resistance Writing class. His life is music. He enjoys working out and good food. He follows sports and the news, and he constantly sends me relevant and funny BuzzFeed lists and videos. He says that our class has opened his eyes to what feminism actually meant.  “I thought it meant you were feminine, or a lesbian, or pro-women to the point that you were anti-men. Now, I know it means standing up for women’s rights and being conscious to the fact that lack of equality is a problem and that anyone can be a feminist.” His advice to young writers is to practice, have confidence, practice, and perform.

I especially love this poem for its insistent and aggressive repetition. Johnny maintains a sturdy rhythm that serves to highlight the contradictory messages we send young men. He writes about the struggle to come out of the cold and embrace connection. This poem commands our respect on many levels.

See Johnny read his poem here.

Be A Man

I’m young
I’m young but
I feel so old
If I may be so bold let me say
It’s more than just cold out here
It’s more than just cold out here
You need more than just a coat out here
You need coats out here

Men!
They coming for your throats out here
But be a man
Tell me what are tears?
I’m unfamiliar
I ain’t been able to cry since… eh, can’t remember

I’m seventeen, look at me
Still manhood’s a puzzle
I carry a whole household on my back with back trouble
and still going through black struggles
But anyway be a man
Showing emotion is weak
or it’s how you show it
If so, then please explain that to me
Like what do I do whenever I see
My friend going through it?
Walk up and just give her a hug then leave?
I wasn’t taught to console nor to be consoled
By God!
It took Jesus 16 years to even reach my soul
Pardon my rude mouth he forgave it already
I’m making the change
I prayed it already

Wish I could forgive but I hold grudges
Like that one time
One time said “your father was a joke n****, you the punch line!”

Life ain’t easy it’s full of opinions
“You ain’t a man until you first had sex”
“You ain’t a man until you gotcha first check”
“You ain’t a man till you known through respect”
“You ain’t a man till you build intellect”
“You ain’t a man till you made yo first band”
“Think you a man with that gun in yo hand?”
“You ain’t a man till yo words ain’t see through”
“You ain’t a man till we believe you”
“You ain’t a man till yo actions speak for you”
“You ain’t a man till these women adore you”
“You ain’t nothing till you love yourself”
“Aye you a man, man why you need help?!”

We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect
We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect.

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — DeJuan Brooks

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

DeJuan Brooks is a senior writer in my Resistance Writing Class. His work has previously appeared in As It Ought To Be as part of a collective response to the prompt “We Can’t Breathe.”  He enjoys good music, playing  sports, and writing. His favorite author is Alex Haley. DeJuan is committed to bettering his Cleveland community. He says, “A lot of people don’t  want to change anything. They get complacent with the way things are. If no one’s going to help, I might as well try.” In the following poem, I most admire his careful attention to rhyme and the natural rhythm that highlights and reinforces the idea that we are trapped in an insidious cycle of repressed emotion and stereotypes. This poem was the poem that inspired this series. I am consistently impressed by DeJuan’s persistence, poise, and maturity. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do.

See DeJuan read his poem here.

Be A Man

The face of a young black man in the inner city. The growing pains that make him “strong.”
The fights, the bruises, the cuts, the scrapes. The tears that came and were told to go away.
We internalize pain for an image we portray. Cuz we all know if you emotional as a girl
your dad gets ashamed. People may think that’s crazy, he just a baby,
but we all know that boy in the 4th or 5th grade who at recess played patty cake
or double dutched way too much. So your dad gives you that look to stay away,
cuz he knows what you don’t, and he’s keeping you “safe.”
And we don’t try to even exercise our free right and go over there and play,
cuz we supposed to be growing to be men, and not that way. Cuz the way we raised,
boys don’t cry, boys don’t walk that way, boys stay strong, boys portray men who are
messed up themselves, cuz that’s how we was raised.
Your dad gets more proud when you fight, then when you tell em’ bout your pain.
When you fall down, you stand up. You crying, then man up. We release pain on others,
we’re supposed to be brothers, but I gotta figure out how to release this some other way.
They say fight like a man, but what people don’t understand is if you’ve never seen
my mom throw hands, you’ll never understand what a real fight is.
A whole theory deferred.
I know men, women, even children who would kill to have as much pride as her.
I lived my whole life knowing my worth, so when they tell me to man up,
like men set the precedent of the world, like this woman who brought me into the world
isn’t stronger than any man or boy. I was raised as a boy and I turned into a man,
but when they tell me I’m acting like a girl, I think of the fight my mom endured.
So, when they say I’m acting like a girl, I feel like I’m the strongest man in the world.