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.

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.

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.

Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

Credit: Timothy Krause www.flickr.com/photos/timothykrause
Credit: Timothy Krause

Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?

by Zerlina Maxwell

It’s been two weeks since the unnecessary and untimely killing of Renisha McBrideOn November 2, the unarmed 19-year-old who was in search for help after a car accident in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heightswas shot in the face by Theodore Wafer, whose porch she had walked onto. The parallels between Trayvon Martin’s tragic killing and McBride’s are resonating in a national psyche rife with story after story of Black men and women gunned down as if their Black bodies have little or no value. And while we don’t know what will happen to Wafer as a result of the killing (George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, was acquitted) we know this pattern of violence must end.

Reports that have surfaced since the tragic killing note McBride was intoxicated at the time of the incident, implying that somehow she was responsible for her own death. McBride crashed into a parked car and walked a short distance to knock on Wafer’s door for help. Instead of, say,inviting her in to call 9-1-1 to report the car accident, he shot her in the face. Originally, Wafer claimed the shotgun fired accidentally, and he wasn’t arrested immediately after the shooting based on this version of events—reminiscent of the Zimmerman case.

Now that more evidence has surfaced, Wafer is claiming that he shot McBride in self-defense, even though the door to his home was locked and reports show that she was shot through this locked screen door and from a far enough distance that she didn’t pose an immediate threat. On Friday, Wafer was finally charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and instructed to turn himself into the authorities. Wafer was arraigned, with his bail set at $250,000.

Beyond these facts, it appears McBride was killed in a manner more appropriate for a rabid animal trespassing on someone’s property than a human being with a full cadre of rights. Her life, like so many others in the Black community, was ended prematurely, for inexplicable reasons that defy logic about self-defense, guns, racial discrimination, and the criminalization of Black bodies.

This narrative is all too familiar. Zimmerman made similar claims after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2011. Zimmerman claimed Martin posed a threat to his community, in part because Martin was wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman claimed that Martin—who was “armed” with Skittles and an iced tea—was a threat because he didn’t respond to being followed by a strange man, with the “yes, sir” head down humility expected by Black people being interrogated by those who believe they are somewhere they are not permitted to be. Martin’s death and the failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman caused the nation to take notice and Million Hoodie marches were organized across the country, garnering national attention. (Even Beyonce and Jay Z attended one in New York City after the verdict.)

So where is the Million Hoodie march for Renisha McBride?

While there are certainly activists organizing vigils across the country for McBride, they are noticeably smaller at this early stage in the case than the ones organized for Martin. Like Martin, McBride was gunned down inexplicably, and then labeled a threat by the shooter to justify the killing.

There is no question that Black men are under attack by a racist criminal justice system and a society that forever suspects them to be criminals. But when a young Black woman suffers the same fate as Trayvon Martin, the outrage appears to be concentrated among Black women, instead of a universal outrage with mass protests. That has got to change. Black women consistently show up for Black men, and yet the opposite is not true when Black women are the victims of injustice.

That Black bodies cannot simply exist and move about unmolested, without the threat of violence for little to no reason, links us back to the Jim Crow South, when Black bodies were labeled threatening and lynched in front of white communities. As Professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, “African-Americans are both the primary victims of violent crime in this country and the primary victims of the fear of that crime.” Both Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin died as an apparent reaction to this discriminatory—and common—mindset.

There must be justice for Renisha McBride, for her family, and for her community. Black America is in a constant spin cycle of pain. The reasons given to justify the deaths of Black children are steeped in America’s checkered racial history and white supremacy.

The callousness with which Martin and McBride were killed should compel a national dialogue on race, inequality, profiling, and gun safety, but as long as white Americans refuse to acknowledge that Black people are not inherently a threat, and are capable of innocence deserving justice, the pain will continue. For a nation that claims to have a foundation of freedom and liberty, these killings are evidence of a nation lost and in denial, unable to find its way until all Americans can walk up to a home seeking help after an accident, and not receive a fatal shot to the face.

This article originally appeared in RH Reality Check and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.