Youth Poet's Call to Action

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Crystal Valentine, New York City youth poet laureate, talks about her new role and how poetry can encourage voting and other forms of civic engagement. 

On Evaluating Black Privilege

by Crystal Valentine (skip ahead to 2:04 to hear Crystal read this poem on the air)

Black Privilege is the hung elephant swinging in the room
Is the memory of a slave ship, preying for the Alzheimer’s to kick in

Black Privilege is me having already memorized my nephew's eulogy,
My brother's eulogy,
My father's eulogy
My un-conceived child's eulogy

Black Privilege is me thinking my sister’s name safe from this list

Black Privilege is me pretending to know Travyon Martin on a first name basis
Is me using a dead boy's name to win a poetry slam
Is me carrying a mouth full of other people’s skeletons to use at my own convenience

Black Privilege is the concrete that holds my breath better than my lungs do

Black Privilege is always having to be the strong one,
Is having a crow bar for a spine,
Is fighting, even when you have no more blood to give
Even when you have lost sight of your bones
Even when your mother prayed for you
Even after they’ve prepared your body for the funeral

Black Privilege is being so unique that not even God will look like you,
Black Privilege is still being the first person in line to meet him

Black Privilege is having the same sense of humor as Jesus
Remember how he smiled on the cross?
The same way Malcolm X laughed at his bullet
And there I go again, asserting my Black Privilege, using a dead man's name without his permission
I can feel his maggots congregating in my mouth

Black Privilege is a myth,
Is a joke, is a punchline
Is that time a teacher asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said alive
Is the way she laughed and said “there’s no college for that”

Ignorance is the only thing that won't discrimination against you,
Is the only thing that don't need a tombstone to learn your name

And it’s tiring, you know, for everything about my skin to be a metaphor
For everything black to be pun intended, to be death intended

Black Privilege is the applause at the end of this poem

Is me giving you a dead boy's body and you giving me a ten 10
Is me being okay with that

I tired writing a love poem the other day, but my fingers wouldn't move
My skin started to blister
Like it didn't trust me any more
Like it thought I’ve forsaken it for something prettier
Something smoother to wrap around my bones
Like I was trading in my noose for a pearl necklace

Some days I'm afraid to look into the mirror
For fear that a bullet George Zimmerman-ed its way into my chest while I was asleep

The breath in my mouth is weapon enough to scare a courtroom
I’ll be lucky if I’m alive to make it to the stand
For some people, their trials live longer than they do
Black Privilege is knowing that if I die,
At least Al Sharpton will show up to my funeral
At least Al sharpen will mason jar my mother's tears

Remind us that the only thing we are worthy of is our death
We are judged by the number of people it takes to carry our casket

Black Privilege is me think that's enough
Is me thinking this poem is enough

Black Privilege is this
Is this breath in my lungs right now
Is me
Standing right here
With a crowd full of witnesses
To my heartbeat