When I was about 15, a White, military kid (and a girl) living in Georgia, I came across the poem “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. I don’t remember how, but somehow that poem spoke to me. Perhaps it was because I had recently, for the first time in my life, I entered a school and a classroom in which I was the racial minority.
And I noticed how uncomfortable I felt.
And I was aware that it was a problem that I felt uncomfortable. White people often say we “don’t see race” but it becomes quite evident that we do when we are in the minority.
And I was aware that it was a problem that there was a school that was full of mostly of Black kids and that the quality of education at that school was radically below par compared to the predominantly White high school I’d left in a suburb of Chicago.
That moment and that poem didn’t immediately change my life.
I didn’t suddenly become an activist for racial justice (though I’m getting there.) I didn’t even decide at that point that I would become a teacher (though I am one.) But the poem — as it asked questions about what it meant for a young Black man to be in a classroom with a White teacher, as it asked much bigger questions about the unjust contrasts between their two lives— somehow in infused my life and my spirit in a way that seems to have shaped it. Or perhaps that poem just revealed something about what my work in the world was meant to be before I knew it.
Poetry has re-entered my life lately and my impression is that it’s not just me – there’s a bit of a trend. Or maybe I just wasn’t looking. After all, a lot of the poets I’m reading now have won things like the Pulitzer Prize, so some people have been paying attention to them!
There is something about poetry that speaks to…