Before

Museum Pick: March 9 - April 6, 2009

As a child, I was surrounded by beautiful, strong and proud black women who taught me to love myself and my black skin. There was Grandmo, Izora, Jessie, Big Mama and Auntie, Marie and Alma, Johnnie Mae and Lois. These women taught me, talked to me and displayed power and grandeur that ignited my own light. They proudly called me "a shiner" because I glowed; I was black and so radiant.

But when I started school I was rudely awakened. I was faced with hatred and racism for the first time. And I just could not reconcile the belittling, hurtful, demeaning and minimizing view of others with the powerful self-regard and pride of the women in my family. I didn't understand; how could I be so great and yet a world full of people hated me and others who looked like me?

This poem was written out of hope to remember and return to how things were before we learned about racism, inequality, prejudice and our "differences." Today, with the recent election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States, I think some of Before has become Today.

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Lakiba reads her poem "Before."

 

 



Before

Before I knew my ancestors were slaves,
I loved my life,
my room, my home,
my street, my community,
my city, my state,
my country, my world...

Before evil tongues spoke the word "nigger"
with demon eyes looking at me,
I loved to play at recess with my rainbow-colored playmates and
sometimes we'd fall out on the grass and look up at the sky,
and just laugh and imagine and dream
and feel joy, and peace and so much love.

Before..
In the mornings when we'd look up at the flag
with hand over heart and say the pledge of allegiance,
I didn't really know what it was all about,
But it seemed normal, and it felt good,
to be a part of something that everyone I cared for was a part of, and so

Before.. early on, I learned to love;
That is,
Before anything else,
I was love,
So it seemed so easy then to
Love first.

Before I learned politics or history,
or viewpoints, or racism, or prejudice,
or about ignorance or people with bad intentions,
I was a lover of all life and all people.

Before I knew that we couldn't ride in the front of the bus
or drink from any water fountain or vote in any election,
or go to any school, or get hired for any job,
or about poverty, police brutality, drugs,
black-on black or hate crimes,
I loved to sing America the Beautiful..

My voice.. ringing out the loudest.. the most melodious,
the most soulful, the most true, because
I was in love with myself, my class, my teacher, my school,
my friends, my family, my community,
my city, my state, my country, my world.

Before I grew up and began to know
my great-grandmothers pain, I felt joy even within
the held-back anger in her voice.
Behind closed doors she, African/Pawnee, taught us
how to work magic and how to treasure our power and protect our gifts,
and too,
my grandmother scratched some of that pain in my head and braided
some of that wisdom and strength into my dreams.
So when my mother's heart spoke to me,
trying to explain why some people called me names,
I already understood part of it
even though I couldn't articulate it at the time

Before... what strengthened me were the values, the love and pride along with
the faith, courage, wisdom, humor, beauty, and ‘all that'
our mothers, fathers and ancestors have been and are...

Before and even now
they're still living in me and in you..
in our cells, in our breath, in our hearts, in our souls,
in our voices, in our smiles, in our tears,
in our hair, in our noses, in our hands, in our memories,
and too,
they're in the sky, in the stars, in the wind, in the fire,
in the sea, in the grass, in the trees, in this land,
in the echoes and in the whispers,
hiding behind the pictures in our bibles, in old boxes and photograph albums,
in old recipes and knick-knacks, and quilts
in the dust and in the corners...

Never far away...

And so it's not so strange
that Before and Now
I love knowing who I am and where I come from...
Where I've been and where I'm going
Because my people and I have been a part of it all...

A descendant of the strongest of the strong
A survivor of the middle passage and slavery
A survivor of the attempts to beat down the spirit,
A survivor of the attempts to create an amnesiac race
The true hate crime - Denying who we are
Attempting to make us feel insignificant.. undesired.. ugly..
implying incompetence..

Untruths require knowledge, wisdom and overstanding

just one sign..
a Mozambique woman forced to live in a tree for days
with rising life-threatening floodwaters..
had a baby in the tree
brought forth life for all to see
There's really NO-thing we cannot be
or do..
‘cause - no one owns the oceans
or the earth or the sky or the trees or our souls

Besides

Before.
My great-grandmother told me
We, A Mighty People!
So, if you should ever see me saluting the flag,
I guess it's because I remember a time
Before
when I thought it was about me and you and
Our liberty, Our freedom, Our pride,
Our presence, Our tears, Our light, Our song
Our hearts

Remembering how it felt before I knew all that I know today,
when I was just God's child on God's earth
Free to be me in all my power and glory

Before.


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Comments

This poem is very personal and powerful. Thank you for sharing, Lakiba.

This is a fantastic poem, Lakiba. It makes me think of the world my daughter has just been born into, and I wonder what her before, and after, will look like. Bravo to you!

Lakiba,
Penetrating beyond what is superficial or obvious. A poem for
the ages. Thank you for sharing.
There aren't enough stars to rate
such beautiful expressions.

Jacqueline
United States

Absolutely beautiful, Lakiba. I'm sure your magnificent ancestors are smiling at you.

Mama Nobantu
United States

This is a powerful poem that tells the story of our pain without being painful. Lakiba, you have eloqently captured a picture of your innocence self, a young African American girl happily growing up before having to face the reality of racism and oppression that so many of us have had to experience.

Peter
United States

Lakiba's poem is inspiring it takes expressions from her past and reflects today's undoubting reality in a way that is truly heartfelt alongside a thought provoking message, thank you for the impactful thoughts!

As I read, I see you as a child, I feel the strength and power of your ancestry. I get the what was, and the reality that ripped you and all of us from what was possible. I wish for our children a different future, and it is only possible by calling up the spirit and pride of those before you and I, who made you smile and who you are today- a goddess

Roberta
United States

Awesome writing Lakiba! I definitely related to your innocence and your discovery of the harsh world outside your home. Lucky for you to have grown up with such a supportive circle of women. Praises to you for your outpouring of Love!

BishopAmbers
United States

Absolutely, beautiful! Dr. Lakiba Pittman, I am so very proud of you and send love to you and your family. As always, I remain, In His Service...Bishop Ann Carson Ambers, Baton Rouge, LA.


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