From what I’ve gathered, 8th grade was a rough year for seemingly everybody. I don’t ever seem to hear someone saying, “man, 8th grade? Middle school? The best, hands down.” That never happens. However, just like everything in life, 8th grade wasn’t all bad. There were two major things in the 8th grade that made it okay for me:
- Our class trip to Boston
- Mrs. Odom’s English class
Today, I’m going to be talking about the latter of the two. Going into 8th grade, I was so nervous. Mrs. Odom was known for being a tough teacher. Difficult grades, strict rules, no-nonsense. You know the type. I’ve always loved English, but I was a fidgety kid who spoke loudly and got distracted way too easily, so I knew I was going to have to work in her class.
Folks, I quickly grew to love her class and respect her, both as a teacher and as a person.
Mrs. Odom was a huge part of my formative years as a young writer and scholar. That English class and later a Speech class I took with her shaped a lot of the things that come naturally to me now. Especially our unit on poetry.
I went to a predominately white school in a very white area with a pretty white upbringing. Representation of minorities was not a part of my reality. Not because the people around me were necessarily unbalanced, but simply because that sort of exposure to diversity wasn’t very present.
Mrs. Odom had us read Nikki Giovanni’s “All Eyez On U,” which was Giovanni’s homage to Tupac Shakur after his death in 1996. To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard of Nikki Giovanni. I hadn’t even heard of Tupac. We read this poem six years ago and to this day it’s stuck with me because it opened the door to a world of Black artists, politicians, musicians, and people in general.
as I tossed and turned unable to achieve sleep unable to controlanxiety unable to comprehend why2Pac is not with usif those who lived by the sword died by the sword there would be nowhite men on earthif those who lived on hatred died on hatred there would be no KKKif those who lived by lies died by lies there would be nobody on wallstreet in executive suites in academic offices instructing the youngdon’t tell me he got what he deserved he deserved a chariot andthe accolades of a grateful peoplehe deserved his lifeit is as clear as a mountain stream as defining as a lightning strikeas terrifying as sun to vampires2Pac told the truththere were those who called it dirty gansta rap inciting there werethose who never wanted to be angry at the conditions but angryat the messenger who reported: your kitchen has roaches your toi-let is overflowing your basement has so much water the rats are in theliving roomyour house is in disorderand 2Pac told you about itwhat a beautiful boy graceful carriage melodic voice sharp wit intel-lectual breadth what a beautiful boy to losenot me never me I do not believe east coast west coast I sawthem murder Emmett Till I saw them murder Malcolm X I sawthem murder Martin Luther King I witnessed them shootingRap Brown I saw them beat LeRoi Jones I saw them fill their jailsI see them burning churches not me never me I do not believethis is some sort of mouth action this is some sort of politicalaction and they picked well they picked the brightest freshestfruit from the tallest tree what a beautiful boybut he did not go away as Malcolm did not go away as EmmettTill did not go away your shooting him will not take him from ushis spirit will fill our hearts his courage will strengthen us for thechallenge his truth will straighten our backbonesyou know, Socrates had a mother she too watched her son drinkhemlock she too asked why but Socrates stood firm and wouldnot lie to save himself 2Pac has a mother the lovely Afeni hadto bury her son it is not rightit is not right that this young warrior is cut down it is not right forthe old to bury the young it is not rightthis generation mourns 2Pac as my generation mourned Till as weall mourn Malcolm this wonderful young warriorSonia Sanchez said when she learned of his passing she walked all daywalking the beautiful warrior home to our ancestors I just cried as allmothers cry for the beautiful boy who said he and Mike Tyson wouldnever be allowed ti be free at the same time who told the truth aboutthem and who told the truth about us who is our beautiful warriorthere are those who wanted to make him the problem who wantedto believe if they silenced 2Pac all would be quiet on the ghettofront there are those who testified that the problem wasn’t the con-ditions but the people talking about themthey took away band so the boys started scratching they took awaygym so the boys started break dancing the boys started rappingcause they gave them the guns and the drugs but not the schools andlibrarieswhat a beautiful boy to loseand we mourn 2Pac Shakur and we reach out to his mother and wehug ourselves in sadness and shameand we are compelled to ask:R U Happy, Mz Tucker? 2Pac is goneR U Happy?
Spotlight is a series where I literally just geek out about a poet or poem that I love and that you should love too. No analysis, no academic fluff, just pure storytelling and sharing art that means something to me.