Category Archives: Past Events and Important People

A Tribute to Jason Low

Jason Low at 2017 CSK Awards Breakfast.
Photo: Mary Jo Humphreys

The Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast is always the highlight of my ALA conference trip. This year was even more special as I watched Jason Low’s face and demeanor shine with joy and pride when Caldecott Winner and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Winner Javaka Steptoe applauded the dedication to diversity from Lee & Low’s publishing house. Steptoe said:

“For those of you who believe multicultural titles do not sell, I say this to you: I have received checks for over fifteen years from every book I have published with Lee & Low. They have taken the time to find places outside the system where diverse communities exist. They are invested in keeping their backlist alive and do not throw money away on projects they will not support. They publish a spectrum of multicultural books without concern about competition. I understand that you don’t want the head to compete with the tail, but you have to at least support the books in your backlist about people of color that are succeeding.”

Jason Low is a strong voice behind the movement for more diverse books. He not only seeks out new diverse authors, but he also puts in the time to write articles, lead panels, contact publishers, create surveys, and fund data studies to share with the publishing and library industry. One of his recent initiatives was Lee & Low’s infographic series, which illustrates the lack of diversity in many industries, including publishing, film, television, theater, and politics. Several infographics have gone viral and were picked up by outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. The first infographic, on the lack of diversity in children’s books over a twenty-year period, is now used in articles, college classes, and reports to illustrate the problem.

Low recently created the Diversity Baseline Survey, a landmark study that measures different aspects of diversity among publishing staff and reviewers. The study is the first of its kind in scope and subject, looking at racial diversity and gender, sexual orientation, and disability among employees.

Jason Low was a featured speaker at the Texas Library Association Diversity Summit in April 2014. I continue to see Low inconspicuously sitting in a corner or stopping for a brief visit at diverse author events.  His presence at the Brown Book Shelf presentation in San Antonio brought a smile to the faces of Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks. He does not tolerate librarian excuses such as “my community will not support that type of book” but, on the contrary, gently seeks to change the minds of those who are not supportive of the ALA Core Values.  He has made more than a few uncomfortable challenging the slow movement toward changing the statistics of diverse books and author representation in this publishing field.

Javaka Steptoe’s words resonate with all of us. Jason Low’s pleas and passions come alive in his voice, gentle laugh, and a mighty pen. Low remains optimistic and channels his energies into concrete, actionable steps. The world has changed, and Jason Low sets the example of leadership in this change. When children and adults enter libraries or bookstores and can read books and see illustrations in these books about people like themselves, we can thank Jason Low and his publishing house for continuing this uphill struggle and for being a friend to all.

Post by Mary Jo Humphreys

Mary Jo Humphreys is a retired school librarian and administrator who continues to be active in the Texas Library Association.  She served as Coordinator of the Texas Bluebonnet Committee and Chair of the Texas Association of School Librarians.

The 48th Annual Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast

This year’s Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast, held early Sunday morning, June 25th, in Chicago at the Hilton, sold out twice! Everyone was excited to celebrate the 2017 CSK winning authors and illustrators, the winner of the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Dr. Pauletta Bracy, Chair of the Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee,  provided a welcome, Pastor Kimberly Ray of Angie Ray Ministries delivered the invocation, and ALA president Dr. Julie Todaro spoke. Breakfast was served.

Then the awards were presented. Nicola Yoon was awarded the  John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press).

Coretta Scott Illustration Honors were awarded to R. Gregory Christie for Freedom in Congo Square (author Carole Boston Weatherford, Little Bee Books); Jerry Pinkney for In Plain Sight (author Richard Jackson, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press); and Ashley Bryan for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (author Ashley Bryan, Atheneum).

Ashley Bryan was also awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (illustrator Ashley Bryan, Atheneum). Jason Reynolds was awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for As Brave as You (Atheneum).

The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (author Javaka Steptoe, Little Brown). Read Javaka Steptoe’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.

The Coretta Scott King Author winners were Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for the third volume of the March Trilogy (illustrator Nate Powell, Top Shelf). Nate Powell spoke for Andrew Aydin, who could not be present, and Congressman Lewis spoke, receiving his award. The acceptance speeches were not received in time to be published in the current edition of The Horn Book but can be viewed here.

The Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Read Dr. Bishop’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop chaired the 2017 Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee Jury. Other jury members included Kacie V. Armstrong, Sam Bloom, Erica T. Marks, April Roy, Martha V. Parravano, and Ida W. Thompson.

Posted by Susan Polos

Walter Dean Myers Inducted into New York State Writers Hall of Fame

Connie Myers                                                Photo Credit: Sara Kelly Johns

Walter Dean Myers was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, Class of 2017, at the New York Center for the Book Induction ceremony on Monday, June 5,2017,  at the Princeton Club in New York City.

Master-of-Ceremonies William Schwalbe noted that among Myers’ many accomplishments are  five Coretta Scott King Awards as well as two Newbery Honors, the first Printz Award and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. Myers, the author of over 100 books, was also appointed by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post he held from 2012- 2013.

Phoebe Yeh                                                        Photo Credit: Leonardo Mascaro

Phoebe Yeh, publisher of Crown Books, Random House, delivered a moving tributespeaking of Myers connections to New York, where he was raised by his father’s first wife, Florence Dean, after the death of his mother.

Accepting the plaque in Myer’s memory was his widow, Connie Myers.  Also in attendance were Andrea Davis Pinkney, Vice President and Editor-at-Large of Scholastic Press, Emily Heddleson, Senior Manager of Library and Educational Marketing for Scholastic, and Jessica MacLeish, Editor at HarperCollins.

This is the not the first recognition of Walter Dean Myers by the Empire State Center for the Book. In 2015 during Children’s Book Week, the Center for the Book together with United for Libraries and the Children’s Book Council honored Myers with the dedication of a Literary Landmark at the George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library, the library Myers frequented as a child.

Rocco Staino, Director of the Empire State Center for the Book, notes that in Myers’ memoir, Bad Boy, Myers wrote, “Harlem is the first place called ‘home’ that I can remember.” This sense of New York as home is reflected in Myers’ writing, including the picture book Harlem and the novels Monster and Darius & Twig.  Staino also notes that Florence Dean taught Myers to read in their kitchen, and when he began attending Public School 125, he could read at a second grade level.

Other writers in the Class of 2017 include Lillian Ross, Frederick Law Olmsted, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, Christopher Morley and William Kennedy.

By Susan Polos

50th Anniversary Information

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Turn 50 in 2019! 

50 Years Strong

Exciting News! The Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee is in the midst of developing plans to celebrate our 50th anniversary throughout all of 2019. Lots of fabulous activities are being developed.

We want you to know that there are ample ways for everyone to be involved. Please keep your eye here for announcements, or reach out to Dr. Claudette McLinn, the chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee:

My Life Beyond ‘Good Times’ with Bernadette Stanis: “Owning Your Voice” at the Texas Library Association Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2017

If TLA’s presiding motto for the 2017 conference focused on owning your profession, then the Black Caucus’s annual author’s brunch with Bernadette Stanis echoed the idea of ownership with emphasis on owning your voice!

Any young urban child from the 1960-80s knows the television sitcom, Good Times, would not have climbed in ratings nor earned a Golden Globe nomination had it not been for the leading ladies: Esther Rolle and Bernadette Stanis (better known as the mother/daughter duo Florida and Thelma Evans). The voices of these women made the show a reflective model in a world that didn’t quite know how to handle Black America on the small screen just yet.

As Bernadette stood before TLA’s Black Caucus members, her voice shook with joy and trepidation. She recounted the three women–and the words they used–that altered her life forever.

She began with her grandmother, who pushed her to join the arts, working extra jobs just to finance her love for dancing. Granny’s empowering advice: “Don’t let fear block you from walking into your destiny.”

Then, Bernadette’s mother encouraged a young and reluctant Bernadette to enter the beauty contest that led to the infamous audition with producer extraordinaire Norman Lear.

However, it was Bernadette’s own voice that piped up to tell a million dollar, successful executive producer, “Mr. Lear, project kids don’t talk like this!”

After scripting her own lines and performing as a bolder, sassier young woman, she inched towards her destiny. This pivotal moment of bravery–owning your voice–landed her the role of “Thelma,” and made her a primetime role-model.


Post by Jean Darnell

Illustrator Sketch-Off with Christian Robinson and Shadra Strickland at the Texas Library Association Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2017

During the Texas Library Association’s conference this year, I checked out the Ultimate Children’s Picture Book Illustrators Sketch-Off. This session gave six illustrators a chance to flaunt their skills in front of a large audience. The catch? They had ninety seconds to draw whatever the emcee selected as the topic for each round. As if that weren’t nerve-racking enough, the emcee’s topics came from the audience. Think Whose Line is it Anyway? with markers and easel pads.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Christian Robinson and Shadra Strickland just before the competition. I asked a few questions in hopes of discovering whether these illustrators were new to Texas and if they were first time TLA attendees. I also wanted to know which side they were on in the big Texas cuisine battle: Mexican or BBQ.

No stranger to Texas, Christian visited San Antonio for his first TLA experience. Despite never witnessing or participating in a Sketch-Off before, Christian arrived ready and hopeful. He took a break from reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou to stake out his competition. He’s a vegetarian who occasionally enjoys sushi, so the BBQ versus Mexican decision comes with some surprises. Ultimately, Christian prefers Mexican food because there are more vegetarian-friendly options. He does enjoy barbecue sides—mac and cheese and potato salad, to be exact. The crowd kept him pumped, and the strange topics jump-started his creativity. Midway through the competition, Christian shared his connection to an educator in his life, which started a chain of the other illustrators doing the same. He gained victory and made it to the final!

Christian won the audience’s hearts when he drew a likeness of illustrator Melissa Sweet.
Shadra arrived in Texas with her copy of On the Road by Gloria Steinem and a determination to win. TLA marks her first visit to the Lone Star State. Surprisingly, one of the first meals Shadra ate in San Antonio was sushi. (We forgive her!)  She’s more inclined to eat Mexican food while visiting as she frequents places in Baltimore where the BBQ is made with Southern roots. During the Sketch-Off, Shadra fed off the energy of her competitors. She even dropped the mic at the end of Christian’s aforementioned chain of educator connections! Shadra’s first competition brought her success, and she joined Christian in the final.

Shadra laughing with the audience as she drew a State Flower that grows out of the toilet for Round 3
Unfortunately,  Christian and Shadra didn’t win the Sketch-Off. But would they do it again? Christian left a little dazed, but he enjoyed the competition nonetheless. Christian believes the session was stressful but fun, and he may be up for a repeat if the chance arises. Shadra thinks the Sketch-Off had the perfect blend of people, and all the personalities made the session worth it. She found it quite different from something similar she does with museums in Baltimore. Shadra’s favorite sketch topic? A poster for a western movie about a town loner whose rival is a skunk! Her illustration involved tomato sauce and a giant pot. Overall, Shadra found TLA to be the friendliest library convention she’s attended.

We thank Shadra and Christian for participating, and welcome both illustrators back for a rematch in Dallas!

(photo album of the Illustrator sketch-off)

Post by Monique Sheppherd

Texas Bluebonnet Award Speed Dating with Don Tate and Crystal Allen at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio, TX, 2017

Energetic and tireless Don Tate and Crystal Allen spoke at the Speed Dating event for authors and illustrators on the 2017-18 Texas Bluebonnet Award list. They rotated from table to table, talking about their titles and writing craft, answering questions, and posing for at least 100 photos. More than 250 participants eagerly listened to and admired these two dynamic literary artists.

This is Don Tate’s third appearance on the Texas Bluebonnet list, this time as the illustrator of Chris Barton’s Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-soaking Stream of Inventions. With humor and an enigmatic smile, Don shared that he has illustrated 50 books and “written 30 of which only three were published.” He likes to write about little-known historical figures and to introduce the new subject matter to children, such as NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson. Tate labeled Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth as one of the most enjoyable books to research, write and illustrate.

Don identifies strongly with Sandow because of his own love of bodybuilding and his own award-winning physique. He told his audience members that this was the most fun he had with a book.

Just as he was once committed to being a bodybuilder contender, Tate has transferred that passion to writing, illustrating texts, and visiting schools year-round. He wants students to see that he is an African American male artist. He is adamant in his message that not all African American males play basketball. He sets the example of other successful options and occupations through his books and presentation so that students have a window into a future for themselves, further representing Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s message face-to-face with students.

Learn more about Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf.

Holy Moly! Crystal Allen broke all records at Speed Dating. She is friendly, charming, and loquacious with a magnetic smile and personality sharing a lot of common traits with her literary character Mya Tibbs.

This is Crystal’s first time on the Texas Bluebonnet Award list with The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown. Crystal shared that she wants today’s fourth-grade girl to feel independent and good about herself. She wants to help elementary students be proud to have their own ideas and be their own person.  Crystal’s goal is to help elementary kids get to middle school and have fewer transitional issues. Ms. Allen focuses on “positive” family environments. Through Mya, students will learn a valuable lesson in not being judgmental.

The biggest takeaway for her audience is that she identifies most with Fern from Charlotte’s Web, exemplifying Fern’s kindness, patience, and consideration of others. And, finally, she wants all to know that Mya is not race-driven and that race does not drive her stories. “My books are for all children.”

Learn more about Crystal Allen at Brown Book Shelf.

Enjoy and use videos, interviews, activities, discussion questions, maker space ideas, and more from the: Crystal Allen Bluebonnet Resource page and the Don Tate Bluebonnet Resource page.

Post by Mary Jo Humpreys

The Texas Library Association and the Black Caucus Round Table Celebrate Diversity and the Message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop at the Texas Library Conference, April 2017, San Antonio, TX

The Texas Library Association and the Black Caucus Round Table celebrated the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Multiple conference programs reflected Dr. Bishop’s famous words that books can at times be windows or other times mirrors in which children might see themselves. Books can also be sliding glass doors, an entrance to a different world. African American authors and illustrators conveyed this message to hundreds of librarians. The CSK blog is proud to highlight four of those programs: The Brown Book Shelf with Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks; Speed Dating the Bluebonnet Books with Don Tate and Crystal Allen; Illustrator Sketch-off with Christian Robinson and Shadra Strickland; and My Life Beyond ‘Good Times’ with actress and author Bern Nadette Stanis.

Part One of Four

The Brown Book Shelf at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio, TX

Presenters: Kelly Starling Lyons (CSK 2013) and Gwendolyn Hooks (NAACP Image 2017)

What a treat for a room of more than 200 librarians to learn about The Brown Book Shelf from Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks. In February 2017, the Brown Book Shelf celebrated its 10th anniversary by recognizing authors and illustrators of color who have paved the way to heighten the awareness of the many Black voices in the world of books. Each day in February, an author/illustrator was featured with an in-depth profile and list of their body of work. There is currently a collection of 280 featured authors and illustrators from the past decade.

Kelly Starling Lyons from Raleigh, North Carolina, shared that the first time she saw an African-American child on the cover of a book was in third grade. The book was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Seeing a girl that looked like her let her know that her experiences and history mattered. It ignited her dream of writing too. Lyons didn’t see another book featuring a black child until in her 20s when she read Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. That book made her want to write for kids. Lyons shared that family relationships are the heart of what she writes about, but her latest book, One More Dino on the Floor, showcases her love of fantasy and dance. The counting story features colorful dinosaurs dancing at the disco, limbo, hip hop, Cupid Shuffle, and more.

Gwendolyn Hooks from Oklahoma City shared her career path from a military brat to a middle school math teacher and on to her full-time writing job. Her 2016 title Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas was inspired by the 2004 HBO show Something the Lord Made. In the 1940s, Vivien Thomas was instrumental in the successful surgery and development of procedures to treat young children with “blue baby syndrome.”

Hooks shared about her own family of readers. She explained that as a military family, the only constant in their lives was the library. No matter where they lived, they could always go to the library. After the debut of Tiny Stitches, her son, who is now in the military, phoned from Kuwait to ask her why he had to learn about this book from his commanding officer? A friend of the officer’s wife discovered the book and told her that this pediatric heart surgery had saved her own baby from “blue baby syndrome.”

Lyons and Hooks had several takeaways for their attentive audience:

  1. Librarians should feel comfortable and confident choosing diverse books for diverse children.
  2. Children’s books by Black authors and illustrators are books for all children.
  3. Librarians must be intentional about their purchases and the power of their dollars, demanding that publishers produce more diverse books and bring back ‘into print’ popular diverse series from the past.
  4. They stressed the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the value of “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Librarians need to make sure that there are books on the shelves with pictures and images of children and people who look like they do.
  5. Books should have ‘cultural authenticity’ with people of color telling their own stories.

Lyons and Hooks shared a history of images in children’s books going back to painful pejorative titles from 1875 to a celebration of Ezra Jack Keats’ Caldecott Award for The Snowy Day in 1969. They referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center published statistics, demonstrating the great need for more books by and about people of color.

Finally, they ensured that this audience had tools ready to use back in their libraries by sharing favorite strategies for promoting diverse books. These included choosing fun stories like Nikki Grimes’ Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel; focusing on “who was that person” such as Schomburg, The Man Who Built a Library; using Riding Chance to demonstrate decision-making and consequences; and drawing kids in with the unexplainable such as The Jumbies, a Caribbean fantasy.

Afterward, Lyons and Hooks reported that they were pleased with this first presentation at the Texas Library Association and with the size of the audience and the attentiveness and the follow-up questions at the end. Lyons was very happy to get the opportunity to eat and perhaps have a margarita at one of Maya Angelou’s favorite San Antonio restaurants, La Margarita. Texas librarians were very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from these national speakers and to learn more about celebrating diversity in their own libraries.

Post by Mary Jo Humphreys

YMA Awards, CSK, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, and Congressman John Lewis: What a day!

Anticipation ran high as the crowd began to gather at 6:00 a.m. for the 8:00 a.m. American Library Association Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 23, 2017, held in the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Many distinguished books were published in 2016; the buzz and enthusiasm were practically palatable as one entered the rapidly filling room.   As the committees entered to sit in the reserved spaces, we got a shot of the Coretta Scott King committee settling in.  The Coretta Scott King Award jury was chaired by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who had a great day herself.  

Before the book awards were announced, we learned that Dr. Sims Bishop was honored as the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. After the standing ovation, CSK Awards Committee Chair Pauletta Brown Bracy had to ask Dr. Sims Bishop to stand so that the crowd could see her!

The CSK (Author) Medal was awarded to Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, who won an unprecedented number of awards for March: Book Three, including Printz, Sibert, and YALSA Nonfiction), while the CSK Andrew Aydin (Illustrator) Medal was awarded to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe also won the Caldecott Medal.

CSK  (Author) Honors were awarded to Jason Reynolds for As Brave As Me and Ashley Bryan for Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. Bryan also won a CSK (Illustrator) Honor for Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. CSK (Illustrator) Honors were also awarded to R. Gregory Christie for Freedom in Congo Square and Jerry Pinkney for In Plain Sight.

The John Steptoe New Talent Award was given to Nicole Yoon for The Sun is Also a Star.

Post by Liz Deskins

Clap Clap


The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African 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 Award’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

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

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

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
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

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

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
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 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.