…reflecting on the poetry about presidents-elect & inaugurations by Stacey James McAdoo…
🎶 Here I am, baby. Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours.🎶 -Stevie Wonder
Raise your hand if you remember Obama’s first inauguration. What I remember most is the electricity and excitement that caused my family to hop on a bus and head to DC to stand outside in the freezing cold to be a part of and present in the making of history. There have been lots of poems written about presidents and their inauguration. For this segment, I’m going to share two of my favorites—actually, one in its entirety and an excerpt from the other.
The first one is from Nikki Giovanni. And it’s a poem rap, and it was written for Obama. Most of the poems recited at inaugurations are really serious and drab. Had Nikki been tapped to share hers; it would have been anything but that:
Roll Call: A Song of Celebration By Nikki Giovanni I'm Barack Obama And I'm here to say: I'm President Of the USA I'll walk the streets And knock on doors Share with the folks: Not my dreams but yours I'll talk with the people I'll listen and learn I'll make the butter Then clean the churn My wife is pretty My children are sweet We need one puppy To be complete I Represented in Springfield Senated in DC Articulating all the while What change means to me Some folk said "wait" Some said "not now" But here I am quite ready To take that President vow The time is now For us to stand Because we all know Yes We Can Yes We Can Yes We Can
Gayle Danley has a piece called “Ours”. Her piece was written from a different point of view. And it made me think of Leron’s grandmother, Momma Charlotte, and even the feeling…the chills and real tears… I felt when I heard Senator Warnock (Georgia’s first black senator) honor his mom after winning wherein he said, “The 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.” Those were some powerful words! And so are Gayle’s:
Ours By Gayle Danley My Aunt Ruth isn't doing very well 94 and the light that used to flicker behind her eyes is slipping I hope she lives long enough to see this: Thousands upon millions on top of multitudes of us of America Women and daddies and babies wrapped well against the District's cold And the children- who had the vision first carried it home believed in what was possible more than what was probable When I was 4 Aunt Ruth and I stood staring at ourselves in her dresser mirror The last hope of daylight spread over her yellow cheekbones I had turned her into a big Barbie Put barrettes and yarn in her black satin hair "Aunt Ruth, are you White?" slipped irresistibly from my innocent lips Her mouth did not answer Her eyes did written on them the harsh decades she had served army men lunch at Fort McPherson pinching nickels to send me North to school She revelled in her race and never once seemed to wish to be anything else Aunt Ruth won't be there on Tuesday The journey's way too long the air too frigid She won't see a beautiful Brown man become what she always knew was possible the reason she sacrificed a big life to feed hungry men and hope for a small retirement check But we'll be there You'll be there, right? He'll be there carrying all our dreams in his hands pride in his eyes I hope he waves at the children and the old ones like my Aunt Ruth whose faith and dreams made this moment ours.
As someone who made the trek with close to 2 million others, I can tell you with certainty that he did. He definitely did!
There have only been three presidents who incorporated poetry in their inauguration – Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama. Biden will be the fourth. And he’s tapped a young, dope 22-year-old spoken word poet (Amanda Gorman – the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate) to deliver a piece called “The Hill We Climb.”
My challenge to teachers and parents is to have your students or children compare and contrast inauguration poems or poems about the presidents-elect. Have them analyze the message/tone/importance of the poetry, and then ask them to write a poem or song of their own that celebrates the meaning of the occasion or encompasses the essence or significance of the president-elect. An alternative might be to have them write a letter to the President or maybe have them write the speech they think the President should say. For more ideas, google “Inauguration Lesson Plan ideas,” and I’m sure you can find something that fits your style and your kids. The following websites are great places to start: https://www.nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/tools-tips/inauguration-day-activities and https://www.hmhco.com/blog/classroom-presidential-inauguration-activities-for-students.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is the sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. For seventeen years she served as an Oral Communications instructor and AVID Coordinator at the historic Little Rock Central High School. She currently teaches future teachers in the Excel program and is the lead Secondary Novice Teacher Mentor for the Little Rock School District where she continues to be the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*