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Awards Show: Poetry Presentations: Dr. Niama Williams and Mozell Fleming

Is Black History Important?
My name is Mozell Fleming, I am honored to have the opportunity to be here to present this precious award as a reminder. That Our history only lives when we remember. Black history or African-American Heritage…the name does not matter. Its all about us. All about the struggles and the trials, The lives and the deaths of my people. That’s why its important that we are vigilant and continue to keep our history alive. There are many who would have us to forget…our youth who still don’t really understand…Why.

Why we are able to participate in an event like this one free on persecution. Why we are able to enter a business through the front door. Why we are able to openly read. It matters.

Don’t forget…who we are.
Don’t forget…who they were.
Don’t forget…your responsibility to those who come behind you.
Don’t forget…WHY YOU ARE FREE.
Is Black History Important?

Copyright 2009 Mozell Fleming

by Dr. Niama Williams
**based on a character from Richard Wright's Native Son

bessie, you just need some luvin
your pain, your sufferin, your inability to speak
the liquor bottle you used to bring on the stupor of sleep
that liquor bottle shut off every opportunity you had for speech.

and bessie; oh bessie,
what you would have done had someone removed it
said simply: "Talk Sista; we listenin."
we didn't listen, bessie;
we ran you to that native son
who only knew how to share your bottle.
we killed you, bessie,
strangled your words
bade you keep them in your mouth
saturating your spirit.
we turned you into a victim, bessie,
cause we didn't let you breathe
didn't let you talk about the white folks killin your soul.

it wasn't so much that they worked you, bessie;
it was that they worked you like a dog.
we looked at your cracked hands
thick, rough fingernails
housemaid's knee
we saw, bessie, after the fact
that it was because they worked you like an animal
with no knowledge of your name
of who was beloved to you
and finally, bessie,
it was that they replaced you once you were dead
and called her by the very, same, name.

you scrubbed their floors immaculate
you washed their innumerable dishes
you changed and nursed their sons
chastened their daughters
washed the mrs' back while she was in the bath
then agreed to half a day off on Sunday.

you did not need more, perhaps
you had no life--
the native son you loved because he brought you drink
he didn't see you, bessie;
didn't see who you were
or saw too well.
yes, saw too well and couldn't bear the reflection
his own inability to alter your situation
he couldn't see,
or couldn't bear to see,
so he could kill with impunity.
you were the second, unimportant, murder.

the critics said you were not drawn well, bessie,
that the great black male writer spent no time on you
but you were always a woman of few words, bessie,
a woman who'd never been asked to speak of herself
so what could you have told him?
mutes have to communicate by sign and memory.

so history may look over you, bessie
may relegate you to secondary status
but those few lines he used to draw you, bessie,
your presence on that cold slab in that disinterested courtroom
them finding you, bessie, cast aside--
fighting to live in the snow--
nothing will kill those few lines that are you, bessie;
next time we'll look for your voice in the bars and pool halls
we'll beg you to speak before the liquor bottle shuts you off and shuts you down
we'll reach in and pull out those words stopping your throat and bending your back

cause if we don't, bessie,
if we don't we'll be next on that cold slab
they'll be pulling the sheet away from our bashed-in heads
he'll be on trial not for killing us, but one of them
and we will be the silent, strangulated, unimportant second murdered
displayed, once again, for show.

Copyright 2008 Dr. Niama Williams

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