I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
Grace Stanley, Pensacola NAACP #2750
2015 Gloster B. Current Youth Leadership Award Nominee – Essay, “A Letter to Mr. Hughes”
Dear Mr. Hughes,
I read your poem “I Too, Sing America”, and I must say I loved it! Sadly, I must tell you something…what you wanted for the children has not yet come to pass. Unfortunately, dinner will be a few years late because many of our diners are unjustly in prison due to the school-to-prison pipeline. We’ll also have to wait for guests mourning the loss of their loved ones due to police brutality…they will also be tied up for quite a while trying to get justice for their family members. Sadly, few of the deaths are ever vindicated…but we have hopes for Baltimore, where a young man named Freddy Grey was recently taken by the police and found dead by the time the police car arrived at the station. However, this time, the leadership is African American, and they seem VERY focused on obtaining justice for this case, unlike other recent, high-profile African American homicides.
Dinner will also have to wait because of the increase of “Black-on-Black” crime. You see Mr. Hughes, we are killing each other with reckless abandon over NOTHING! Some say it is due to violence in music, some attribute it to drugs, some say frustration due to few opportunities to succeed…whatever the reason, the loss is still senseless. You’ll have to send out invitations to other diners if any of these victims were on your list.
When you do get a full table, I can’t say that everyone will be who they present themselves to be. I believe that many of your guests will wear masks at your table just as they do every day to hide their true feelings and realities in a modernly racist world. Did you know we now have an incredible African American President? Yes, our 44th President is Barack H. Obama! Although he is doing an amazing job, he is rarely given credit for anything he does and the Republicans keep looking for reasons to sue him. He won’t make it to dinner, either…he will be with his lawyers in between running the country.
As I said earlier, we have a terrifying school–to-prison pipeline because when issues arise at school, teachers and faculty are now calling the police instead of the principal. Where I live, Escambia County, we have one of the highest school-to-prison pipelines per capita in the state of Florida! I’ve heard of ridiculous reasons for a child to go to prison, such as a child being beaten and imprisoned for throwing Skittles on a school bus in Louisiana! So if he is on your list for dinner, you might need to replace his name as well.
To make matters worse, some of our media mocks the African-American culture as well as racism instead of finding a solution. After Michael Brown was killed, some white people were wearing t-shirts that said, “I can’t breathe,” mocking his last words. Back in December a lot of people fought back and had “Die-Ins” all across the country. They would just go to places and lay down as if dead in silent protest to the murders that have been taking place. Our NAACP Youth Council attended one in Pensacola, but the Advisor wouldn’t let us “die,” she couldn’t bear the thought…so she laid down for all of us. That moment of silence as everyone laid motionless were one of the longest minutes in my life…I just kept wondering how many more would have to fall for this attack on African Americans to end?
So you see Mr. Hughes, if we were to have dinner tonight due to the state of the world today I believe that we would be served inexpensive fast-food such as Kentucky Fried Chicken or
McDonalds instead of the steak and lobster your chef told me that you planned. I don’t mean to discourage you, Sir…I just think that we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer on dinner. Just as you requested, the food is prepared, but the world just isn’t ready for us to eat. From your description, I envision an intimate dinner where we would not only be served a sumptuous meal, but we would also be served Justice, Peace, Respect and Equality… I know it will be delicious! Sadly, the police have blocked the street and the politicians are rezoning the neighborhood. After a while, I don’t even think we’ll be able to enter the neighborhood where the restaurant is legally, but we will never stop trying!
Take heart, Mr. Hughes, although the world is in many ways very similar to the world that you knew in 1965, it is in many ways very different, because the children are different. Many of us may have been raised in an environment with racism, but it was probably subtle…so we missed it altogether! It would not cross my mind that I couldn’t go somewhere or do something because of my race like my parents or grandparents experienced – if I want it, I go after it…and I am telling you Mr. Hughes that I VERY MUCH want to sit at your amazing table! I will never stop trying. And I thank you and all of our Civil Rights Icons for preparing a place for me!
With much love, appreciation and great respect – Grace A. Stanley, age 12