Last Friday, I decided to show my 7th graders some clips of a poet, being that we are studying poetry at the moment. Maya Angelou was the first to come to mind. Now, anyone that knows me as a writer knows how deeply inspired I am by her. Of course, I wanted to pick a clip that would make my students feel the same. The previous week, I had shown them a video that outlined Ms. Angelou’s ten pointers for success, and I think the content resonated with them. However, I was stuck when it came to picking a spoken word piece of hers. Every piece that entered my mind I was sure that my students had heard many times. So, I did a random Youtube search. During this search, I came across a piece titled “The Mask”. I couldn’t recall if I had ever heard it before, but, nevertheless, I thought it would be perfect for viewing.
Truthfully, I’m not sure if the poem moved my students in the way that I’d hoped. But, I can say that, as I watched it with each class, the message overwhelmed me. For those of you who are not familiar, this piece’s focal point was about the love and the sacrifice of Black ancestors. Angelou spoke about Black men and women who had nothing but pride and dignity to call their own, and still, they sacrificed that. They worked, and tolerated dehumanization, in hopes that their children and their grandchildren would never have to endure the same. As I reiterated the message to my students, I realized that many of us (Millenials) are doing the same as our parents and our grandparents. We’re just in different settings.
This realization resurfaced as I flipped through my poetry notebook, hoping to find some inspiration for my latest writings. I stumbled across a piece I had written a couple of years ago while working in retail. This is “Free”:
The only thing I hope is that, if I die today, I’m good with my folk. And their memory of me doesn’t fade away. Even though I’ve got dreams and goals of reaching a higher plane, the world seems so cold; like it will never change. Everyone’s so concerned with currency, and emotionally detached from the current. See, if we’re not engulfed in social networks, we’re punching time clocks at work, not realizing there’s no rise in our networth. We’re working to sustain, but not enjoying life on Earth. Crazy, how I help make them a mill, and they don’t pay me. So I’m scraping to for a meal, knowing it may break me. That’s that shit that weighs heavy on the daily, and each time I break bread for bills to be paid and mouths to be fed. The hunger forcing me to a place outside my head, diminishing my little bit of hope. So, it’s got me questioning my folk, and what they’ll remember me for. Because every time I find that I can’t make a way, a bit of me begins to fade away.
Maya referred to this type of sacrifice as love, and I believe it to be. Just as she said, we sacrifice for our children, even if we don’t yet know their names. Still, I wonder when will we not be forced into these positions. “The Mask” was performed in 1987. Paul Laurence Dunbar, whom Maya references, published his critique, “We Wear the Mask” in 1896. And here I am, a Black woman in 2017, still finding their messages to be more than relevant to our current reality. Makes me question even more: How much more do we need to sacrifice? Will the hopes of my ancestors ever fully manifest?