As I considered the 2016 campaign and election, thinking about how or if it should become central in my teaching or my classroom, I turned to Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Instead of becoming overtly political, I decided to become poetical.
I showed my classes an amazing reading of “Still I Rise” by Angelou, and made the claim that this poem is one reason that we might choose to read or write poetry. It champions the human spirit’s capacity to resist oppression, and personally renews my faith and gives me hope.
Using “Still I Rise” in the classroom brought me to Angelou’s inaugural poem. And “On the Pulse of the Morning” brought me to the Inaugural Poem Project. Students from each class will write a poem and present them to the class. Each class will select one poem to move forward, but if more than one poem is great, or more than one person wants to read her poem at the later event, the more the merrier. Once all classes select a winning poem, those poets will have the opportunity to read their poems to a larger school audience. Eventually one poem will be chosen as the Maine West Inaugural Poem, and perhaps that poet will be able to read his or her poem on the announcements on Inauguration Day.
I offer it to the public in the hopes that you consider taking a few days out of your already over-scheduled curricula to allow all your students to add their voices to the present moment in the form of an inaugural poem.
The video above is one of my students Runal Patel, an ambitious senior at Maine West High School who hopes to dedicate himself to helping others via public service. Below you can find the text of the poem.
Why take pride in her? America,
With her careless acts and distant dreams:
Why should I have pride in her?
Pride in America I may not have:
Her people divisive,
Death to her native,
Oppression for her once captive,
With no one to forgive
For her sins, why should I have pride in her?
Seems Columbia hath forsaken me now,
Gone onward along
Without a care or a doubt:
Why should I have pride in her?
We live here, god dammit,
I try and try, but must admit,
Her plains, her land, why I don’t quit
I have faith in America.
Faith that tomorrow is a new day,
That our tempest-tost land will endure.
I have faith in her.
My mother’s climb upward:
She came here in youth,
Looking forward to rise
And bring home the prize.
But her dad soon died
Taking her dreams with him.
Yet she climbed her way back
Hand over fist, escaping the hole that most do not.
My father’s long hours:
He came here in love
Looking forward to create
A family with my mom
His degree did not follow
Stayed back in the motherland
He made his way by
Working two jobs, from seven to ten,
Supporting his family, the only thing he had.
My neighbors’ hard work:
They’ve been here for years
Trying to move up
But lack of papers hold them back:
Forced to live in hiding in their home.
We say give me the wretched refuse of your teeming shore
But the second they arrive, we just shut the door.
In this land founded by immigrants,
‘Immigrant’ is now some dirty word.
My friend’s determination:
Putting in her all
To rise above the hate
We’ve all upon her bestowed.
Yes she’s gay
But why does that diminish her?
Hate, fear and
Discrimination holds her back.
But she will not stop the fight
For the same respect
You and I have.
They give me hope.
Faith that rather than simply elope
They all chose to stay.
They toil on and make headway
And make our nation great.
Not again, but on some date,
Not tomorrow, not the day after,
But one day we’ll lift a lamp beside the golden door
And proclaim to the world, America is now great!
My mother holds her job with no degree
She’s the only one on her team to do so.
My father still works from seven to ten
A week can go by and I don’t see him.
My neighbors live their lives, been here longer than us,
Yet no papers for them to validate that yes, this is their home.
My friend, she will rise above the slurs that’ve been cast on her.
She’s gay, she’s here, she refuses to be silenced.
Columbia, founded by rejecting the storied pomp.
Now has her own.
And yet rather than
Have her children beckoned away,
She must learn to accept her own wretched refuse.
Two hundred years have passed,
She is not perfect.
Her imperfections all too real.
She neglects not just the world
But the ordinary within her.
Her greatness stifled by her hate
Failing on metric after metric
But she is mine,
And isn’t that worth something?
Faith that despite her imperfections,
Her people’s best intentions
She may not be perfect yet,
May never be perfect.
But her unyielding push
Forward, onward, towards
A better tomorrow:
That gives me faith.