Today is the first Sunday in Black History Month in Canada. Those of us who are Boomers well remember the Civil Rights Movement and the powerful witness and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His powerful “I Have a Dream Speech” made a deep impression on our generation, but sadly today we must acknowledge that there are still too many places where systemic racism persists and too many instances of racial discrimination.
This is the lament of black Canadian Andrew Johnson, whose powerful prayer poem I share below, with permission from the United Church of Canada. Can we learn from our horrific past? How can you and I begin to build reconciliation in our own communities?
Prayer in Poetry for Black People in Canada
By Andrew Johnson
Here I am in a mosaic of cultures, not a melting pot,
Yet, my Blackness is not seen or given too much thought,
While it is true I have other identifiers that can have me talking for days,
Now is not the time or place as peoples continue their racist ways,
The course of time continues to play back echoes from long ago,
Gaps, secrets, lies, coverups, and parts of our history we’ll never know,
An ongoing narrative of trauma, ongoing stress, prejudice, and discrimination,
But, folks who never have to think about it won’t fully understand my fatigue and agitation,
In the Northern Hemisphere of the Americas, we call Canada our home and native land,
Black history and experience is shoved under the rug with some of it left untold, unspoken, and banned,
People say you can look it up on the Internet in an age of information,
We should be advanced now and know so much more,
But, that is only the tip of the iceberg and leaves us standing at the door,
When you open the door to lived realities you will see there are higher truths, and find the capacity to feel for other living, breathing people,
It shakes the status quo including those who pray underneath the churches’ steeple,
Empower us! Allow us to feel Joy! Let us share our lives and wholehearted “isness”!
Hold that thought for the swarms of devil’s advocates, and personal identifiers being part of everyone else’s business,
We’re caught in learning cycles, and aware of the world’s problems without good policy or sensible action,
There is no vocal power here for persons with Blackness, since the good cause doesn’t have enough bells, whistles, or dignified media traction,
Say my name, say my name! But, you don’t know me well,
We’ve only just begun to name real lived experiences after recognizing how humanity has been so mentally unwell,
Why did the man uproot, enslave, dominate, violate my ancestors, and turn around to make a mockery and think it’s funny?
It seems to boil down to a massive transfer of wealth, power, resources, and money,
The trauma of this atrocity is left stored in my DNA memory,
I await for issues of apologies and statements written carefully and cleverly,
It would be wise if we could learn from our past in all its horror, twists, grit, and grime,
To your average citizen, the events of these racialized heightened days are like an impossible puzzle or mountain we cannot climb,
As though there isn’t any thread to follow for each sickening act of violence, hatred, and crime,
If you know your history well, there are no surprises under the sun here in our place in space and time,
I regret to think that maybe, if I play “the game” well, I can possibly see the day of reconciliation and reparations,
But then, I am but a person with Blackness in Canada with a hope for seemingly healthy, feel-good race relations.