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The Words of Black Women Poets Shine Light in These Challenging Times
by Fola Onifade
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April 25, 2020

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The Words of Black Women Poets Shine Light in These Challenging Times

Courtesy of @findingpaola/Instagram
Courtesy of @findingpaola/Instagram

If you’re like me, you’re searching for hope and healing during this confusing time. You may feel crippled by the enormity of it all and unsure of how to help yourself, much less others. Or maybe the uncertainty of this moment makes the future feel dim. Poetry, as Audre Lorde famously put it, is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

So, in honor of National Poetry Month, take what you need today from the poets, the Black women who push us in the direction of light, love, and action. May we find some peace in their wisdom.

When we need hope for the future

Alex Elle

“If we can learn anything from flowers, it is that resilience is born even when we feel like we are dying.”

Alex Elle pushes us to see that everything exists in cycles; there is a resilience in resurrecting, in blooming after what feels like the end. We aren’t the first in the history of humanity to experience such magnificent change, and we can look to nature to see the beauty of a new thing. “Rebirth,” like the title of her poem, is a chance to start anew. We can’t undo the past, but even amid this storm, we can shape a more beautiful world, a more beautiful future for those to come after us.

Nikki Giovanni

“We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, and through all our sadness.” 

Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock

In a poem to the Virginia Tech student body following the 2007 campus shooting, Nikki Giovanni, a university distinguished professor in the Department of English, spread a message of hope that still rings true today. 

Giovanni asks us to wake up to the purpose of being alive: the gift of possibility. Epidemics, like mass shootings, don’t happen in a vacuum; they are often a reflection of society. But even in this truth lies an opportunity for reinvention, for radically upending our social systems.

Related: Taking Off My Cape: Letting Go of the Superwoman Syndrome

Now is the time to re-imagine a new world, one that tackles challenges with creativity and compassion. It’s time to imagine a future where a missed paycheck won’t leave families on the street or where illness won’t trample families under mountains of debt. 

When We Don’t Know Where to Begin

Audre Lorde

“When times are hard, do something. If it works, do it some more. If it does not work, do something else. But keep going.”

The news cycle and our social media feeds are teeming with all that’s wrong in the world. Much of which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Audre Lorde challenges us not to become paralyzed by dread and despair, but instead, to do something, to begin somewhere. Paint. Write. Meditate. Rest. If it helps, if it soothes the anxiety wrapped up in this turbulent moment, do it again. If it doesn’t, keep searching. Your peace won’t look like everyone else’s, but invest deeply in finding it, because we can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves.

Related: Ways to Balance Your Mind, Body and Soul During Social Distancing

Cleo Wade

“Your big life is made up of a collection of all of your small moments. Our big world is made up of a collection of all of our small actions.”

Cleo Wade reminds us that in our struggle to decide how to show up for each other and make a difference, we begin with one small step at a time. Donate to your local food bank or chip in to help a struggling neighbor with rent. These acts may feel small, but this is how all significant change begins. By taking small strides to reach through virtual time and space to hold each other’s hand is how we’ll make it to the other side of this thing.

When We Acknowledge Our Power

Courtesy of Pexels.com
Courtesy of Pexels.com

Toni Morrison

“Don’t let anybody, anybody convince you this is the way the world is and therefore must be. It must be the way it ought to be.” 

If a quote by one great poet wasn’t enough, Alice Walker also said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Together, Toni Morrison and Walker give us permission to stand up and fight for the kind of world we want to live in, the world Giovanni pleads with us to imagine. They’re begging us to do so. This pandemic lays bare the inequities of the United States. And many eyes are opening to the injustices that have been simmering at the surface for decades. Toni Morrison‘s quote isn’t merely a word of advice; it is a call to action: to fight for the world we imagine, the world that ought to be.

Related: ‘Behind Her Faith’ is the Docuseries We All Need in This Time of Difficulty

Camoghne Felix

“When [Gwendolyn Brooks] wrote, ‘say that the river turns and turn the river,’… it was a reminder that the world is not a great place, but we have a natural power and ability to transcend those bad things and make the world a better place.”

Camoghne Felix quotes Gwendolyn Brooks The Sermon on the Warpland to remind us of this same power. Resilience is in our nature, imagination is our birthright, and we don’t have to accept things the way they are. If we can imagine a different world, we have the power to create that world. We owe it to ourselves and those who will come after us to change the world, to turn the river. 

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