A Langston Hughes Moment

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A reflection on systemic racism and homelessness

Submitted: July 14, 2018

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Submitted: July 14, 2018

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On a rainy Friday morning at St. John’s, a young African-American kid approached me as I stood before the closed gates, our 80 breakfast tickets had been distributed, and I am the keeper of the crypt or as some refer to me as, “St. Peter at the gate.”  I am listening to his angry rhythm and appreciating the soul he is bringing with his grievance.  He says, “They tell me we are descendants of Kings and Queens, Fuck these rules, everyone has a rule about what I can and cannot do. What about the dream deferred?” It’s at this point, I feel him and I tell him, “I never met a rule I did not want to bend if not break.” He looks me in the eye and smiles.  We connect, we know the same places, the same frustrations.

Then I ask him, “Do you know Langston Hughes and his poem, “A Dream Deferred”? The actual name I would later learn is “Harlem.”  I pull the poem up on my phone and read it to him:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over-

Like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load

Or does it explode?

I read it to him again in my best dramatic voice.  Then I share with him what I learned in my favorite class in college, “Black Psychology” at Skyline College taught by Dr. Tony Jackson.  The Egyptians were not white people as portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.  They were Africans from ancient Kemet (the Black’s Nile Valley civilization of what today is Arab conquered Egypt).  Yes, you are descendant from Kings and Queens.  His response: I figured they had to be people of color.

Then he asked me to pull up a picture of Langston Hughes, he comments, “He’s a light skinned brother.”  That comment stuck with me over the many days and weeks that have since passed.  I am angry that he was never taught about the great writers of the Harlem Renaissance.  I am angry that he associates light skin and good hair as something that makes someone special, more worthy or beautiful.  I am angry at the broken educational system that fails so many children of color.

The many children like myself that drop out before we know how valuable education is and how well it can be taught.  I never would have known about Sylvia Path or Anne Sexton had it not been for my English teacher at Skyline College.  I was lucky I found my way back to school and to have my learning disability finally assessed and diagnosed.

I continue to carry that young man with me, his face etched so clearly on my memory, as I discovered what a prolific writer Langston Hughes was. This is the poem by Hughes I wish I could share with that young man today:

I Dream a World

I dream a world where man

No other man will scorn

Where love will bless the earth

And peace its path adorn.

I dream a world where all

Will know sweet freedom’s way,

Where greed no longer saps the soul

Nor avarice blights our day.

A world I dream where black or white,

Whatever race you be,

Will share the bounties of the earth

And every man is free,

Where wretchedness will hang its head

And joy, like a pearl,

Attends the needs of all mankind

Of such I dream, my world!

My doctor just said to me last week that maybe my dissociation is just me being a dreamer.  I hope she’s right, because I share Langston’s Dream.

 

 


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