For James LeVan, a 16-year-old Cleveland student at Glenville High School, police brutality became top of mind early this year.
He witnessed an uncomfortable interaction between a young Cleveland man and a police officer. LeVan said he did not know the victim and didn’t feel comfortable getting involved, but the incident stuck with him. “It seemed like [the police officer] was harassing him for no reason,” LeVan said. “It didn’t make sense.”
A scholar in the Fatima Center’s Summer Institute, Le Van channeled his confusion into a poem, “The Mind of a White Cop,” in which he speculates about the thinking of a hypothetical white police officer on his daily beat.
Poetry writing was part of the Summer Institute, said Director Apryl Buchanan, with an emphasis on the works on Langston Hughes. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards arranged for guest faculty to speak and teach on Hughes, and on the writing life throughout the six week program.
“Students needed to consider current events, not only in their lives, but things that would affect their generation,” Buchanan said.
LeVan recited his poem, from memory, at the summer institute’s closing ceremony. He said he was nervous. “It was hard getting up there in front of everyone,” he said. “I hoped everyone would like it.”
The Mind of a White Cop
Standing on the corner
Just like I expected
Sitting on the porch with too many people
This means something bad is about to happen
Look, little kids with water guns
Baby jailbirds in training
He’ll be in the back of this car soon
Right along with his dad
Look, those black kids have a white friend
I wonder what he had to do to be accepted
Look, a baby that won’t stop crying
Just give him some crack to calm him down
Oh no!! Six black kids doing the same handshake
I should probably call for backup
No, I could just shoot them and say it was “self-defense”
I’ll be in jail a night or two but I’ll be off eventually
It’s a nice feeling to know I can get away anything
Black man, medium volume, pull him over
White man, volume all the way up, “Can you make it louder?”
Black man walking in front of an abandoned house
Let me investigate
Black boy kissing a white girl with those fat lips
Throw him in jail, “Attempted suffocation of an Innocent girl”
Dreadhead, slam him in the back. Look like he smoke weed all day
I’ll give him a drug test because I feel like it
I knew it!! I’ll give him 10 seconds to run
I won’t lock up his light-skinned friend
I’m trying to turn one black man against another
We’ve been doing good enough so far
Since 2009, an emerging young poet from Northeast Ohio is celebrated along with the winning authors at the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony in Cleveland.
At the 2011 ceremony, Essence Cain, a sixth-grader at Miller South School for Visual and Performing Arts in Akron, Ohio, recited “In the Flower Market,” a poem she and her classmates wrote for “Speak Peace,” an international youth arts program created by Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center. American children in the program wrote poems in response to paintings created by Vietnamese children. The exhibit of paintings and poems is traveling nationally through 2013.
Essence has appeared in plays and musicals at venues throughout Ohio. She was a contributing writer and reader for the animated e-greetings of the 2009 Traveling Stanzas series, Peace Stanzas. She has performed poetry with the Wick Poetry Center Outreach program at the 2011 Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State University and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs national conference in Washington D.C. in 2011.
In the Flower Market
Tiger lilies roar in the cold April rain.
Tulips seek friends with their spray of pollen.
Sunflowers flash in the night,
Illuminating the world like a candle.
Bluebells drip with dew—
They love just being themselves.
Marigolds sing, mango trees ding.
Orchids fly like birds in the wind.
Flowers from all over the world
Spread their colors like peacocks.
Peace is what puts them all together.
Here is a video of Essence reading “In the Flower Market” as part of the “Speak Peace” program.