Black Words Matter: Baltimore Youth Speak Out

by    /  June 4, 2015  / No comments

Baltimore mural. Photo via Flickr user: Nick Normal.

After the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, Writers in Baltimore Schools began to host write-ins for students to share their experiences of racism and police brutality. Two high school students wrote the following poems two weeks after Freddie Gray‘s death. Sampsonia Way is publishing these pieces in order to amplify some of the voices that are often silenced as a result of systematic inequality in America.



Two Poems by Afiya Ervin (grade 10)

I Almost Forgot

I almost forgot
about the time
I took a walk
with my sister
and admired the
on the brick walls
at the end of
every crumbling
row house.

I almost forgot
about the time
I fell asleep on the bus
and had to find my
own way home,
in awe with every piece of

When I turned on the T.V.
I almost forgot
how bright Baltimore was
because not the flames
from cop cars and CVS
blocked the way
the sun danced
on the looters faces.

The lights and cameras
flashed too bright
and stunned me from
seeing that the father
was only taking
toilet paper, or milk,
or any other necessity that
his family needed.

The helicopter was too loud
and left a ringing in my ears,
so that I cannot hear the screams
from every Baltimorean
asking, crying, begging
for justice.
Every hashtag pounded
too loud. Every journalist
talked too much. They shut
us up and kept us
from remembering that
if they fixed the streets children
wouldn’t have rocks
to throw in the first place.

But I turned off the T.V.
and I remembered.
That this is my city
these are my people
my brothers, my sisters.
This is Baltimore.

At night I still rest
and in the mornings
I still rise.

I feel safe in Baltimore
without the cameras and
without the foreign correspondents
making me forget.



I’ve never written about this topic because the silence
Of my pen will never be as strong, never be as deep, never
Be as stifling as the moment of silence from a mother.

I’ve never written about this topic because I’m afraid.
I’m afraid that the next teenage black boy face will be
The face of my brother, I’m afraid I’ll see his Instagram selfie with a black and white filter on
The news and I’m afraid of seeing hoodies with his face on them.
I’m afraid of seeing pictures of his dead body on the street for 4.5 hours.

I’ve never written about this topic because I
Know a little black girl like me will never be heard because of
The white patriarchy in my community, in my country.

I’ve never written about this topic, but I’m starting now.
I’m starting to write because one day, hopefully another little
Black girl won’t be scared for her brother, father, or friend. Hopefully
A black male can hope for a future instead of hoping
For the ability to walk down the street.

I’ve finally started writing because hopefully one day the scratches
Of my pen can uplift the mother, uplift the
Country, and uplift our people above the wet, dark backs of our
Ancestors and break the chains we’ve been carrying since we were taken
From our African Empires to work for the stripes and stars that have
Held us down for centuries.

I’ve finally started writing.



Poem by Jaida Griffin (grade 11)

From behind the Fox 45 cameras reporters throw around the word “thug” like limbs thrown about by the wind.

Limbs dangling from a tree in Mississippi, in Missouri, in my backyard.

Thugs. They are thugs, animals, only interested in destruction.

This is what is reported. This is written on paper, cut into skin, etched into bones, the bones on my brothers.

News gives reviews on the destruction of my people and their dreams.

This has all happened before. 1968. Left buildings in my city charred.

The Revolution begins again. Children write on cardboard that matches their skin. “No Justice, No Peace,” “Please set us free,” or cut holes into tires, etch cries for help into buildings, in their neighborhoods.

When the cameras are cut, “Thug” goes through a transformation. Thug, gun, thug, gun, thug gun nig-gun thug gun nigga. What are you trying to say?

It’s great to see a woman beating her child. A child throws rocks at stores on his block because he is not here today. There is no one listening to him read poetry or spit bars about who he is and what we are going through.

It is great to see a woman beating her child. She will do their job for them. Silence him. It’s not assault if it’s for a good cause.

From behind the camera they will tell you that blue lives matter, and new lives matter, but tell me; does mine?

These poems were originally published on May 12, 2015 on Real Pants and Black Words Matter. They are republished with permission of Writers in Baltimore Schools.

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