Tag Archives: Topeka

“What It Takes”: 63rd Anniversary of Brown Vs. Board of Education: Everyday Magic, Day 899

This weekend, I had the honor of being part of the Voices of Freedom Festival, celebrating the Brown vs. Board of Education supreme court decision that ended “separate but equal” policies in public schools and beyond. It was a joy to hear the music of Kelley Hunt, Isaac Cates and the Ordained, Maria the Mexican, and Injunuity, and to read with fellow poets David Baumgardner, Tava Miller, and Ashanti Spears. Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion, held in downtown Topeka, Kansas.

What It Takes

It takes years of waiting on polished wooden benches

outside trembling courtrooms. Thousands of meetings

in church basements or someone’s living room,

sipping lukewarm coffee on folding chairs.

Centuries of nights up late worrying, or puzzling out

how to change what’s unjust and breaking us all,

then early mornings to make the oatmeal, pour the

orange juice, and remind the children to take their homework.

It takes 16 blocks to get to the black school instead of

the white one on the corner, and hundreds of new signs

for another march, hours on the phone, and dressing up

to meet with the senator who sends his aide instead

and says, don’t push, change takes time

as if that’s not obvious as daylight after decades

of waiting in chains, standing in the back of the bus

and swimming in the smaller mildewed pool

surrounded by weeds and broken beer bottles.

It takes gumption and guts, grief churned into anger

that makes a tired man head to the newspaper office

to tell a reporter, it’s past time for justice, and just in time

to turn supposed equality into walkaday freedom.

It takes all those lawsuits before judges blinded by habit

and their own inadequate stories, and all those potlucks

to break bread with people who don’t look like you,

and tell them what it’s like for mothers to count the minutes

between the school bell and the front door,

and fathers whose hearts fall when hear

their beautiful daughters say, it’s nothing, I’m okay,

when she’s not okay. It takes piles of briefs that sway

the sidewalk leading up to the school where

a little girl walks, hand in hand in a federal agent,

ready to cross the threshold into the world we should have

inhabited all along, each step a way to sing, “Stand Up.”

Even then, it’s not over, and it’ll take all this and more

to make it safe to drive, or cross the street, or ask

for help without the risk of seeing eye bullets and

all the secret lashes that separate us into a lesser people.

It takes the patience of water to turn mountains into rivers,

then find the courage to sing while the healing waters flow.

Advertisements

“Dedications” and the Women’s March in Topeka (and Everywhere!): Everyday Magic, Day 889

img_2993
One of the men I was talking about — my husband Ken — plus Dot Nary, who gave a superb talk and her husband

Today I was given the enormous honor of speaking at the Women’s March in Topeka. I’m blown away by the speakers, all of whom opened our eyes and gave us new insights and courage. Thank you, Women’s March of Topeka organizers, and thank you to fellow speakers Elise Higgins, Fatima Mohammadi , Stephanie Mott, Dr. Glenda Overstreet Vaughn, Dr. Dot Nary , Ana Maldonado, Paulette Blanchard, Representative Barbara Ballard , Heather Ousley, Alise Martiny , Reverend Sarah C. Oglesby-Dunegan, and the spectacular emcee Dr. Beryl New.

I dedicated my reading today one of our local heroes, Dr. Josie Norris, who has helped thousands (tens of thousands perhaps) women do right by their bodies and babies by founding the Topeka Birth and Women’s Center (where our three kids were born). Here is the poem I wrote for today:

Dedications

This is for your grandmothers and mine,

one who left a Midwestern home where she was abused

to work in a Brooklyn button factory and make a new life,

the other who boarded a ship at nine years old,

not knowing from English or America,

to escape the pogroms that killed her mother.

This is for your mothers and mine, who joined with

My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power
My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power

other suburban moms to fill buses with their children

so we could march against the Vietnam War,

and who taught me that be a woman meant to be a feminist.

This is your aunts and mine who gave up a singing career

for marriage because she had to choose, and this

is for your daughters and mine, who never had to think twice

about belting out her songs on the streets and in the clubs.

This is for your nieces and mine, who were abandoned

at railway stations in India but made it through the needle’s eye

to an adoptive family in Missouri where they found

love, education, and a future. This is for your sons and mine

who grew up washing dishes and laundry, and learning to use

their privilege to hold open the door of justice and opportunity

for those previously locked out. This is for the men we love—

your husbands, friends, allies, coworkers and nephews, and mine—

who stepped back to make room for us to step forward,

who have asked instead of answering, who are here today

in body or spirit, ready and already breaking open their hearts

alongside and because of us. This is for your sisters

of origin, of choosing, of fate and mine, all of our beloveds

who keep turning the trauma of sexual abuse,

the micro and macro violations of catcalls in the street

or silencing in the office, and the fear storms that come

from not having enough safety, food, shelter, healthcare

and access into a greater capacity to march or roll,

to speak solo and in chorus, to love who we are called to love

with our widest and deepest dedication to this life,

the generations before and ahead. This is for us:

this moment of knowing how alive we are,

and how this life is rising in us and raising us up

together from this moment on.

I also read “I Will Not Be Afraid of Women,” which you can find right here. Please also consider signing up for my blog (see link on the right) and my email list (I promise not to give the list to anyone and not to send out more than one email a month) by clicking here. You can see all the powerful speakers and musicians (yay, Skirts!) from today at this link (I’m at 1 hour, 33 minutes or so).