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A Teacher Must Speak: Poetry of Diversity

From the moment I began my journey towards becoming a teacher, diversity in education has been at the forefront of my decision-making. One of my biggest concerns has always been not what I wanted to teach, but who I wanted to teach — privileged White kids or underprivileged kids of color. Both demographics need exposure to a quality, Black, female teacher, albeit for different reasons.

The poems below  were each written by yours truly (when I went by the name “Vivett Hemans,” not “Vivett Dukes,”) very early in my teaching career. They were borne out of two experiences I had as a teacher in two very different classroom environments.

The first poem, “To My Students,” was written as the result of a lesson I taught about diversity through the analysis of poetry  in an affluent White district. The lesson  went grossly awry when the class was watching the poets recite their poems via video. The students began to laugh and state that they (the poets) needed to “speak English.” They were speaking English, but they had accents that the students found intolerable.

The second poem, “Doomed,” was written during one of the last classes I took in my undergraduate coursework in order to become a teacher. We learned a lot about educational inequity. Everything I learned in that class troubled me. Writing “Doomed” was the vehicle I used to constructively express that pain.

It was these two experiences that most assuredly informed where and whom I ultimately chose to teach…or,  should I say, who chose me to teach them. Here I am seven years later and so much of what troubled me as a pre-service teacher still troubles me today. Not that much has changed regarding diversity in education. That, my friends, should trouble you.

“To My Students”

Angry thoughts whirled and swirled around my not so pretty little head as I fought instead to understand what went on in class today.

Did they not realize that “she” could’ve been “me” if her difference is all they choose to see?

Could’ve been me at whom they laughed at and scoffed — and the students who participated was the mind-blowing part!

Never expected it…
Caught me off guard…
After all of my effort –
I worked so hard
to show them the diversity
they don’t see in their halls,
to break down the walls
of ignorance
that block their
thoughts and makes them narrow
and weak.

I have to speak,
Or my passion may slowly leak
Into the sea of drudgery
and boredom
and despair
that so many teachers
contribute to each and every school year.

They’re 12 and 13
Immature – I know…
but…I was hoping my being here
had helped them grow
helped stretch their minds
to be more sensitive,
more kind,
to have learned
not to ostracize
simply because
of how one pronounces
their “E’s” or their “I’s”

Speaking of E
What happened to Equality?
Seems that ideology went
out.      the.      window
and was replaced with that
deadly disease
that makes one think they’re better
because their skin is lighter
or their bank account is fatter
or maybe their degree
reads “Ivy League”
as opposed to those
like me,
graduates from
“Nassau Community”

Maybe their zip code
fills them with clout
I don’t know what what happened in class today was all about
but without a doubt
I hope you know that while your
privilege may
grant you a social edge
it.  does. not.  make. you. better.than.
We.  Are. All.  Equal. To.

             “Doomed”

In America, when you’re black and poor
it feels like you’re doomed
set up to fail
a life lived constantly
on the third rail
of those tracks
from the wrong side of town,
measures from every angle
designed to keep you down –
in the dumps
breasts with lumps
but no healthcare,
children plagued with asthma
can barely jump
rope without landing on needles from
dope fiends…
Life, so mean…
when it’s doomed.
Doomed to get left back!
Doomed to go to jail!
Doomed to be fat!
Doomed to ail…
in mind
in body
in soul
in spirit,
just going through motions,
but not really “in it”.
Doomed to use stamps
to buy your food
doomed to “grin and  bear it”
when others blatantly rude,
thus elevating stress!
Life is a mess
when systematically
your opportunities are less
than everybody else’s,
and from every side
you’re oppressed.
Stripped of dignity!
Removed from history!
Lacking an identity!
Longing for serenity…
wanting…
needing…
desiring…
Pleading for…
so much more…
In America, when you’re black and poor,
it feels like you’re doomed.

What do you think?