Spotlight: Nikki Giovanni’s “All Eyez On U”

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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:

  1. Our class trip to Boston
  2. 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 control
anxiety unable to comprehend why
2Pac is not with us
if those who lived by the sword died by the sword there would be no
white men on earth
if those who lived on hatred died on hatred there would be no KKK
if those who lived by lies died by lies there would be nobody on wall
street in executive suites in academic offices instructing the young
don’t tell me he got what he deserved   he deserved a chariot and
the accolades of a grateful people
he deserved his life
it is as clear as a mountain stream as defining as a lightning strike
as terrifying as sun to vampires
2Pac told the truth
there were those who called it dirty   gansta rap inciting there were
those who never wanted to be    angry at the conditions but angry
 at the messenger who reported:      your kitchen has roaches your toi-
let is overflowing your basement has so much water the rats are in the
living room
your house is in disorder
and 2Pac told you about it
what a beautiful boy graceful carriage melodic voice sharp wit intel-
lectual breadth what a beautiful boy to lose
not me   never me    I do not believe east coast west coast     I saw
them murder Emmett Till I saw them murder Malcolm X    I saw
them murder    Martin Luther King    I witnessed them shooting
Rap Brown I saw them beat LeRoi Jones    I saw them fill their jails
I see them burning churches    not me   never me    I do not believe
this is some sort of mouth action     this is some sort of political
action and they picked well     they picked the brightest freshest
fruit from the tallest tree     what a beautiful boy
but he did not go away     as Malcolm did not go away      as Emmett
Till did not go away       your shooting him will not take him from us
his spirit will fill our hearts     his courage will strengthen us for the
challenge     his truth will straighten our backbones
you know, Socrates had a mother      she too watched her son drink
hemlock    she too asked why     but Socrates stood firm and would
not lie to save himself       2Pac has a mother     the lovely Afeni had
to bury her son    it is not right
it is not right that this young warrior is cut down     it is not right for
the old to bury the young    it is not right
this generation mourns 2Pac as my generation mourned Till as we
all mourn Malcolm     this wonderful young warrior
Sonia Sanchez said when she learned of his passing she walked all day
walking the beautiful warrior home to our ancestors I just cried as all
mothers cry for the beautiful boy who said he and Mike Tyson would
never be allowed ti be free at the same time who told the truth about
them and who told the truth about us who is our beautiful warrior
there are those who wanted to make him the problem     who wanted
to believe if they silenced 2Pac all would be quiet on the ghetto
front there are those who testified that the problem wasn’t the con-
ditions but the people talking about them
they took away band    so the boys started scratching they took away
gym      so  the boys started break dancing the boys started rapping
cause they gave them the guns and the drugs but not the schools and
libraries
what a beautiful boy to lose
and we mourn 2Pac Shakur and we reach out to his mother and we
hug ourselves in sadness and shame
and we are compelled to ask:
R U Happy, Mz Tucker? 2Pac is gone
R U Happy?
 Another thing: this poem is a love poem. I find that heartbreakingly beautiful.

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.

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