By Amen Ra
[3 minute read]
The first time I protested anything was in Middle School during band class
My instructor handed us the sheet music to 'I Wish I Was in Dixie'
The adopted theme song of the Confederate South during the Civil War
At that age, I knew the history of the song
I knew the soldiers that sang it fought to keep slavery alive
I knew its lyrics were meant to mock the struggle of my ancestors
So I refused to play it
The pitch of my protest was out of tune with my instructor’s expectations
He looked at me as if I a puppet his wand couldn't control
As if I had more brass that the saxophone I refused to bring to my lips
He looked at me as if he was going to get the air out of my lungs one way or another
He took away points from my grade,
Told me my behavior was inappropriate and that this was neither the time or place to make a statement
All of these years later and people still see the issues we protest as sheet music we should just shut up and play
They tell us our pride is a music note in the wrong key
A melody they will never understand
They tell us our message gets lost when national symbols get disrespected
The tell us to only kneel when ordered to by police
They say, 'Don't block any major highways'
God forbid their daily commute get disrupted by the black bodies we still have left
And while this ignorance disgusts me...
I wonder if my middle school self would sit next to my modern-day activism in the lunchroom
I didn't participate in a single march or rally last year
I didn't live stream from the front lines
I didn't curse out any police officers
My throat became a library
Full of knowledge, but the silence painted my vocal chords golden
The passion for my people burning on my sleeve felt like flat-line hypocrisy
Sometimes, I question our methods
Sometimes, I feel like we are going nowhere slowly
Sometimes, I feel like I can't do anything at all but then...
During times like these I realize that my smile is a protest
Wearing this skin like Egyptian cotton is a protest
An unclenched fist is a protest
An open mind is a protest
This poetry is a protest
Some people say that actions speak louder than words,
But the last time I checked 'to speak' is a verb, it's something you do
Even a whisper for justice can be the loudest instrument in the room
A heart on a sleeve can resound like a drumline
And a freedom song can turn a hashtag into a national movement
And if that isn't a protest...
Then I don't know what is
Edward Henderson, who goes by the name of Amen Ra, is an educator, spoken word poet and event host from Fayetteville, North Carolina. He teaches the six-week Black Voices Matter: Black Literature from the Harlem Renaissance to Today course for the Extension’s Creative Writing Certificate Program. His passion for poetry and affiliation with the San Diego National Poetry Slam Team placed him on stages across the country as well as overseas. Drawing inspiration from the great Black Literaries of our time, Ra will lead his students on a journey of understanding, introspection and growth. With five years of event hosting experience ranging from open mics to TEDx event, Ra brings a charisma and excitement to the learning experience that will inspire and transcend the digital medium.
He has moved back to North Carolina and will be teaching the course remotely, but in San Diego, Ra hosted multiple open mics and was a member of the stellar 2016 and 2018 San Diego Slam Teams. The 2016 team took 2nd place in the nation. Ra also performed poetry and facilitated workshops in the 2017 South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires in front of 200 international college students from 20 different countries.