Clap Clap

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding image3African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.  In a continuing effort to promote these authors, illustrators and their works the CSK Committee is engaging in various aspects of social media to continue delivering quality content about everything CSK. Over the next few days, you’ll see the list of contributors to this blog grow because everything related to the Coretta Scott King Award is a family effort.

What better way to begin this blog than with the call to action poem delivered as the acceptance speech at this year’s Coretta Scott King image1Award’s Breakfast by Jason Reynolds, author and co-author of the 2016 Author Honor books. All American Boys was co-authored with Brendan Kiely, and The Boy in the Black Suit. Both books were published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division and both books were this year’s honor books. The speeches of the winning author and illustrator presented that morning are available on the Horn Book blog and also printed in it’s journal.

Jason’s acceptance speech was the second he delivered on the morning of 26 June. While he read, his mom shed tears of pride and joy and, when he

finished, everyone was on their feet. I do wonder if anyone recorded his reading? There is a video of Jason reading the poem here. Jason said he did read the poem as written, but did adlib a few lines at the end. And, there is nothing to compare to an author reading their own work, their emotions laid bare in the words they’ve chosen with care and vision.

Read closely and then, get to work!

MACHETES (written for and read during Coretta Scott King Honor acceptance speech, 2016)

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
in half
connecting for half a second with something
breathing and growing
breathing and growing
before being chopped
down like sugar cane in a Louisiana field
yes there are machetes everywhere
the sound of them cutting the air

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

we try not
to bend in the wind
try not to bow or bow
try to wrap fingers around our own
saccharine souls
and brace ourselves
for the

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

the machetes
cutting the air in half
coming for us

seems like folks like us be best
when we broken open
when we melted down
when we easier to digest

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the ears off
us

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

cold steel against our cheeks
be black sheep siblings
be black boy pillows
be

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

ears lopped off
leaving our drums in the dirt
like we ever needed ears
to hear God
like we ever needed ears to hear
the machetes
cutting the air
in half
the machetes
cutting the eyes out
us
retinas ripped
light left as a stain on the angry end of a blade
life in black and white blur
like we ever needed eyes to see red
to see gold
to see sunshine laughing yellow
to see those machetes
cutting the air
in half

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

those machetes
cutting us
in half

chop CHOP

dropping us down
to a manageable size
like gigantism be the only reason we giants
what you gon do with this ten foot fire in my belly?
what you gon do with tidal wave under my tongue?
aint nobody ever told you we always find our legs?

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
in half

chop CHOP

and if you listen even closer
you can hear
in the sliver of silence
between those chops
the clapping

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

the clapping of yester-generation’s
freedom songs
protest warriors
unpopular opinions
uncomfortable confrontation
unhinging truth

clap CLAP

and this generation’s
freedom songs
protest warriors
unpopular opinions
uncomfortable confrontation
unhinging truth
hashtag

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

the clapping of kids in the street
and grandmas at church
the clapping of aunties watching
their nieces lead the march now
the clapping of new connections
new routes
new alleyways
new allies
new chances
new dances
at house parties
because we’ve never needed
eyes ears or legs
to boogie because boogie
be our heartbeat
and if you listen closely
you can hear our heartbeat
in syncopation with that

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

our laughter
clap CLAP
our singing
clap CLAP
our dancing
clap CLAP
our fighting
clap CLAP
our praying
clap CLAP
our crying
clap CLAP
or trying to breathe and grow
in the midst of all this
chopping

yes there are machetes everywhere
and if you look closely
really closely
closer than closely
you can see the machine
turning its wheels
churning out those machetes

this machine
distant yet all around
like sky
faceless
and cold
and perfect for sharpening steel
because it has no finger to prick
it has never felt the sting of skin rolling back
because it doesn’t have skin
and the excuses of history keep its conveyor belt
rolling
rolling out
machete after machete after machete to
to cut the air
of so many of us
in half

no this machine
it does not feel
but it does speak

it says
get to work

chop chop

text @copyright 2016 Jason Reynolds, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

5 thoughts on “Clap Clap”

  1. What can one say? It is absolutely brilliant. Absolutely on point capturing who we are as a people and what folks down through the ages try to do to us; think of us and what we think of ourselves. But we ain’t going nowhere y’all. Been here as long as water, not just surviving but joyfully thriving, masters of reinvention, weavers of our own stories. Determining our own fate. Shining forever brightly, inspite of everything sent to dull and strip us of who/what we are.

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