*In a unique offering this month, Part 2 of this blog post about Kaye Whitehead’s experience watching her two sons protest during the Baltimore Uprising is posted on her personal blog.
I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. It is the power of the pen on paper that has sustained me and has kept me. It is the one place that I consider to be my familiar, where I am most at home and I do not feel like I am alone. I wrote my first poem when I was 12 years old and there are days when I go back and read it to remind myself of who I used to be. Poetry, in so many ways, saved my life and on those days when I felt that I was done, it would remind me that I still had more to say, more to share, and more to give to the world.
I published my first chapbook, red zinger lov/starved blues: notes of a wummon/child, in 1995and it sold exactly 100 copies (they were numbered). I used to travel around with them in my bag and like every other starving poet I would pull them out and try to sell them on the spot. I was young then and the world through a poet’s eye seemed bleak. I was depressed all the time and was absolutely convinced that the racism and sexism that was rampant in this country was going to kill me before I turned 30. I never thought I would grow old, never thought I would get married, or have children, or get gray hair. But I did and over time, my poetry gave way to essays, my short stories gave way to academic papers, my depression gave way to enjoying the moments of extraordinary joy that just come from still being here. I have spent years struggling in the darkness, thinking about what it means to be brave, to be a fighter. I have spent years trying to remember what my voice sounded like. I have spent hours trying to trust myself enough to be as honest on the page today as I was when I first began. I have stepped out into darkness, time and time again and without fail, there has always been something very strong for me to stand on or I have been taught how to fly.
I started writing RaceBrave on July 7, 2014, on the day when Eric Garner was murdered when my sons challenged me to write something everyday about what was happening around the country in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. It was on that day, two years after the murder of Trayvon Martin and after coming through Ferguson being repeated throughout the country, that I realized that I too could no longer breathe. I could no longer swallow the lies. I had to find a way to be RaceBrave and to give a voice to my pain. And so I wrote poetry and along the way, Tamir Rice was killed, Freddie Gray was killed, the Baltimore Uprising happened, and I watched the birth of a spirit of activism in my sons.
The following poem, entitled “black mommy activism p1,” was written while we were standing in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood waiting for the start of another march and “the birth of your activism” was written in pieces every evening when we arrived back to our car after marching from his neighborhood to City Hall. It has taken me almost 25 years but I have finally returned to the poet that I used to be…
“black mommy activism p1,” excerpt from RaceBrave
for ten days without fail
you marched for freddie gray
you marched for justice
you marched in dream of a better world
in search of a better tomorrow
away from all of our yesterdays
you marched because you wanted to be free
having spent your life listening for the whispers of freedom
you thought you were on your way to free/dom
and that the road went straight through east baltimore
straight through freddie gray’s block
straight through his home
straight through his life
and so you marched
never having marched before
never having struggled before
never having … before
you marched and marched
you complained while marching
you cried out while marching
and then you found yourself while marching.
I marched too
But I simply marched for you.
About the Author: Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Ph.D. is Associate Professor, Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and the Founding Executive Director at The Emilie Frances Davis Center for Education, Research, and Culture. Her new anthology, RaceBrave, was published in March 2016.