Love towards our ancestors from major media sources is always welcomed. However while tribute is being mentioned, we the people must also recognize those who have come before us.
Join me as I ring in this black history month with a wonderful article from Renee Watson; contributor at The New York Times. Reading this article felt like home. Her memories are shared among many of us. Enjoy this perspective and tribute to Langston Hughes from a Woman of Color in America.
Reading Langston Hughes’s poetry is like going to church.
And by church, I mean the type of church where the congregation calls out “amen” as the pastor preaches. Where people wearing their Sunday best — big hats and polished shoes — wave their hands giving praise, shouting, “I know that’s right!” when a line of Scripture resonates.
When I was growing up, call and response was a part of my church’s culture. At Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, in Portland, Ore., church services were interactive — a silent congregation was deemed rude and was subject to rebuke.
Our pastor’s sermons were laced with history lessons about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and he challenged us — especially the young people — to keep our eyes on the prize, to carry on the work that had been started. Sometimes he chastised us, urging us to make our faith something practical and do something — feed the homeless, visit the sick, care for the motherless.
I looked forward to Sundays because I got to sing in the choir next to my friends, because we gathered as a congregation for a potluck dinner in the basement and because there was an older woman who pinched my chubby cheeks and called me her beautiful chocolate girl every time I saw her.
Church was home.
As a black girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I so needed that space. I attended a predominantly white elementary school. My classmates often let me know that they detested the way I talked, the way I wore my hair and the food I brought from home for lunch.
So when my English teacher introduced her poetry unit, using Langston Hughes as the first poet, my spirit leapt for joy just as it did at church. I recognized the vernacular in his poems. I knew that mother who told her son that life for her had been no crystal stair. I understood the stench of rotting dreams, I knew the longing of a people wanting America to make good on its promise. When Hughes called his people beautiful like the night sky, my grandpa and cousins and neighbors came to mind. I said “amen” in that classroom for the first time. The lesson spoke directly to me, about me.
Poetry became my sanctuary.
I grew up in a state where black people make up 2 percent of the population, so I needed a refuge for my blackness. I needed permission to celebrate and critique where I came from. It was validating to know that the struggle of someone like my mother was worthy of a poem, that my dreams were important enough to be recorded. Hughes’s poetry was a witness to my experience, my existence.
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