BIPOC Voices

Longtime Pongo Pals Poet and Instructor Kiana Davis (Left) and Maven Gardner (Right) reading at Pongo's 25th Anniversary Event.

Though a majority of the authors Pongo has published in our 16 books of youth poetry have been BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), this portion of our website is dedicated specifically to those voices. Below are the poems we’ve collected so far:

Pongo is proud to spotlight the poetry of Kieanna Stephens, our Spring 2021 Intern. Kieanna authored “Black Strength” in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, describing the piece as a “dive into the mental strain that many black people face in America.”

We encourage you to check out Kieanna’s moving and powerful recitation of “Black Strength” here.

A special thank you to Kieanna for allowing us to republish her piece.

by Angela M. Franklin, Pongo Poetry Mentor

I want you to slip inside my suit.

I want you to feel the hot hatred—
the seething disdain when you’re dismissed,
mistreated solely because of skin color.

See what it’s like to stand before
someone in line and know they won’t spot
you but you’re there. Yet they look past
your shadow to one behind you.

Such dismissal feels like branding irons—
cattle prods stampeding your chest cavity,
scarring you with self-contempt.
You’ll contemplate their neglect:
Why won’t they see my humanity?

I want you to know every thud
of prescribed miracle pills plying
your gut, greasing your cranium
trying to erase self-hate— the only
familiar feeling you can’t escape.

See what it’s like to recite
empty promises pledged
in allegiance against a flat hand
placed on your heart to a flag
that has disfavored you
since Plymouth Rock landed
on your kidnapped ancestors.

I want you to understand
what it means to call police
who refuse to show up
or if they do you become
the cuffed suspect.

Please, put on my mantle
but give it back at sunset  
because I want you to
to watch how I manage
to survive dark
when someone is seeking daily
to knead my neck to death.

by Washington State Supreme Court Justice, G. Helen Whitener

How dark is the color of ITs skin?
       As that will define ITs struggles within
       Is IT a boy or is IT a girl was asked
       As if important to assign ITs Life’s Tasks
       Will IT stay or will IT go
       The Answer ITs parents needs to know
       From the day that IT was born
       ITs very essence society scorned
       At birth Society CODED ITs future to DOOM
       IT hacked the CODE and redirected ITs future to ZOOM
       Silent IT could never be
IT ladies and gentlemen is ME

*”IT stands for Identity Transcendence,” says Justice Whitener. Listen to Justice Whitener read her poem “IT” in her soul-stirring TED Talk, Claiming your Identity by understanding your self-worth.

Read more about Judge Whitener’s ascent to the High Court in the Seattle Emerald newspaper’s article “First Black Woman Makes Washington’s Supreme Court Most Diverse Ever.”

A special thank you to Justice Whitener for granting us permission to republish this powerful piece

by Gem, Pongo Poetry Mentor

I cannot be mellow.
All else equal,
still stands in stark contrast
against a dull mosaic of taupes and grays.
When I am passionate about something,
fiery yellow-white sparks
overtake the yellow light of caution,
pushing away
the yellow-bellied
turning it the bright green
of go,
of spring,
of buds
blooming into being.
When living in my yellow skin
is associated with yellow fever
during dual pandemics
of coronavirus and racism,
when the cultures
who enjoy yellow rice
are separated from their families,
from egg white,
the idea of what it means
to seek refuge on American land,
is where I can no longer
be your demure,
model minority
Asian girl.

by Althea*

I used to look for an action figure like me,
a toy with brown skin
and huge muscles and curly hair
with superpowers from the Motherland,
able to mine technology and natural resources
for those in need.

The absence made me wonder
Am I not special?
Am I weird?
Am I alone?

I used to look for an action figure like me,
hoping for an image of myself to hold—
a super hero that also spent hours doing puzzles
and brain games,
perfecting its lines for theatre and dance alike,
preparing and serving breakfast to the homeless at a local food bank,
concocting a myriad of facial expressions and emotions as a mime,
completing afterschool homework assignments
and Saturday morning chores
as Anita Baker’s sweet, sultry voice flowed throughout the home,  
practicing traditional Baptist church chords on the piano,
cuddling with its dog,
high-stepping while twirling a baton,
thrusting its arms into the air
and gently pointing its fingers in a circular motion
 to signal the whisk of a fan kick,
or whistling the tune of “Word Up” by Cameo into a flute,
changing into its “play clothes”
for a game of hide-and-seek outside with its friends,
playing sports—golf and soft ball,
and definitely laughing the loudest.

But all the toys I found seemed like they were made for white people,
for people who did not look like me.

Looking and not finding, I felt frustrated, humiliated, sad, and disappointed
which reminded me that I was different and simply tolerated
when I longed to be accepted and included.
Sometimes I blamed society
because I didn’t ask to be here.

I’m asking for recognition.   

Because I couldn’t find a super hero like me,
I became my own action figure – in real life.
I did a fitness competition, and this was my motivator.

Every time I would do a pull up, I would see Wonder Woman,
but I imagined it to be me, like I was the action figure
able to overcome adversity,
and save myself. 

*Inspired by Kiana Davis’s “A Doll Like Me” poem in her Digging for Roots collection ; done as a Pongo training exercise.

By Cynthia Lua

I was three.
I was three years old.
I was three years old when you left us one day in May.
I didn’t understand what happened. I couldn’t.
I see everything as a blur. Bits and pieces.
I have others’ memories that were loaned to me
to remember you and the day your soul left.
I am told that I saw you as the paramedics
were fighting to bring you back.
But you weren’t there. You were with me.
You told me not to cry; If I stopped crying
you would leave me a treat. A gift.
I am told that after you left us, with broken hearts
we returned to your empty home, and did indeed find
that gift just where you told me it would be.
I carry that loaned memory with me and hold it close to my heart;
it tells me that you were with me. With me. With me
when I needed you the most.
I felt anger and jealousy for the longest time
that others had the privilege to know you
and experience you longer; All I had was three years.
I wish I could have held on to you longer. The memory of you.
Your voice, your face, movements, likes, your words;
they are all mostly a blur. A blur that I try so hard to see clearly.
I remember fragments. Fragments I hold close
and never want to let go of;
One day running into your happy loving arms
when you were in your garden, making glasses out of clothespins,
blowing colorful little feathers gently in the air,
your bird named Nana, a treat in the cookie jar.
I remember spending hours and hours at the beach after you left.
All of us trying to desperately hold on. Not yet ready to heal.
Not ready to let go. Never.
I have lived 25 years without you physically here;
It has taken me this long to realize something…
You left me another gift that day your soul left.
You left me a part of you;
a part of the great soul to take with me for a lifetime.
To discover, to grow, to feel close. Our souls together.
Some things you can see and others you left me to discover.
Your beauty mark on the tip of your nose, your love
for all things floral and colorful, your need to accessorize,
your love of gardening, your creativity, your love of cooked onions,
your hiccups at the first sip of a drink, your strength,
your knack for organization, your inner light.
You didn’t leave me alone.
The piece of my soul that left with you
was replaced by the piece of your soul you left with me
to grow and to get to know.
I feel close to you. I feel like I know you a little more.
I am okay with the loaned memories.
I don’t feel that jealousy anymore
because you left me with something so special.
I may not remember your voice
and I need a picture to see your face,
but I still see you.
I imagine you as a bird soaring free and singing. A butterfly
dancing in a garden. A beautiful colorful light.
I look for signs that you are here. I feel you.
I am me because of you.
I am me because you were.
I am me because you existed.
I am me because you are with me always.

by Lee L. Booker*

I am a unique somebody
No matter what my journey has been
Nor does it matter what you presume me to be
My life matters
I am important
I got dreams
Dreams that rise high into the bluest sky
Dreams that burn deep in my soul like the radiant
heat of the blazing sun
I Matter
To view my color with disdain and fear
Can never replace the joy and love I bring to mother earth
And I freely give her my servitude
Working tirelessly to change the failing mind-set
that asserts, Black lives mean less,
are lowly, dispensable,
invaluable, and are unworthy
I proclaim that
My Blackness matters
I cannot be replaced
I am invaluable
I am powerful in my Blackness
Can change the world in my Blackness
will crush injustice in my Blackness
and shout from every mountaintop
All lives matter
None more than mine and certainly none less
Created in God’s image
Like a hidden gem
My story is yet unfolding
My net worth still calculating
My impact still being created
Like the artist’s canvas
the colorful images of my life
Are being painted in this present moment
Through the words I speak and the hearts and minds I touch
And through all who Come to stand with me to proudly say
Black lives matter
Life is too precious to be forcefully taken
Cut down so thoughtlessly
By those with cold, racing hearts,
and hardened, narrow minds,
and bloodshot eyes clouded by hatred
refusing to acknowledge that
The light Shining through
the heart of every
Black life

*Read more of Booker’s wonderful writings on her website, Poetry Potter

 Are you BIPOC and wanting to share your poetry? Submit your poems. We’d love to read, respond, and share your work with others.

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