Hillhouse Students Pen Political Poetry

Christopher Peak PhotoOne of district’s star teachers, Hillhouse High School’s Chevaunne Breland, asked her 10th-grade students in Pre-AP English to try their hand at writing poems of their own, as they studied what the professionals produced.

She said that the exercise not only taught her students about formal techniques, but it also deepened her relationship with her students. “It taught me a lot about each student as an educator that I did not have ability to know before,” Breland wrote in an email. “Students who were less eager to share their work previously were calling me from across the room to help them figure out which words would work best where and to ask me to read their work.”

Breland published the works in Hillhouse’s online literary journal, and she shared a selection with the Independent.

During a unit on the clash between the individual and society that’s core to most high-school English classes, Breland had students look at the rapper T.I.’s spoken-word poem “United We Stand,” in which he calls out hashtag activists. “Chained by man-made devices small enough to fit into the palm of our hand / I guess that’s made it easy to swipe to the left and scroll to the next / And forget about Sandra Bland,” T.I. says. Breland had her students consider the ways social media can help or hurt social activism, then write through that in words.

“United We Stand,” by Vashti Burkett

Because we live behind a screen,
Forgetting about the real reality in life
Putting on fronts for a virtual audience
Jumping in and out of character for one’s attention
Opening up our life to the world
We don’t understand the value of life
We have been blindfolded by a device small enough to fit in our pockets
Exploitation at its finest
Fakeness in such highness
Praising the Almighty Media
We have fallen through a trapdoor of depression
Having the world revolve around devices
Making us as virtual beings
Frying us into a pot of confusion
Not knowing if we really are, who we are.
Putting down the devices is what America needs
More education so we can succeed
Getting away from what has us trapped,
America, yes we need to change
Because we are far from where we need to be!

“Hands Up,” by Shaniya Butler

Shots fired, people running, people down
I can’t breathe, what are you following me for, hands up
They say they are supposed to protect us
Hands up don’t shoot
Murders rise up like flowers
January of ‘29 a legend was made
‘I Have A Dream’

He said black men as well as white men, would be
Guaranteed the unalienable rights of life

Hands up
Emmett Till
Dontre Hamilton
Michael Brown
Tanisha Anderson
Jerame Reid
Aiyana Jones
Age is just a number in their eyes

Hands up

Brothers and sisters down one by one

Blood is rain
Pain is life

False accusations on their tongue
Hands up and Stand up

“United We Stand,” by Jesus Santana

Coming from a new era where tech rules the lands
In this new world where we can’t look each other in the eye
It surrounds our world, and gives us power

But at what cost?

Do we really use it for the right reasons?
People gain attention
Mostly for the accidents
“We’ll solve the problem!” they say
But really, will they?
Is having someone’s attention enough?
African Americans, Hispanics, you name it
People who are murdered, arrested, given injustice
Are they considered by others?
Are things being done to fix injustices?
Is having someone’s attention enough?
Technology breaking and hurting
Despite it used to bring awareness
There’s nothing else from that
Ignored, and slowly forgotten

Only getting 15 seconds of fame, from beyond the grave
It’s like there’s a mastermind in play
A chess match with no progression
We’re hooked on the likes and views
But not necessarily the consequences
Technology is a leader
Captivating us and hurting those in need
Like a match in the wind
News quickly dies out
A fire
Not really put out

The poet Elizabeth Acevedo once had a professor tell her that she couldn’t write a poem about rats, because they aren’t creators. That led her to write an ode entitled “For the Poet Who Told Me Rats Aren’t Noble Enough Creatures for a Poem.” Breland shared a clip of Acevedo talking about the poem with her students, then they began analyzing odes and crafting their own.

“Black Girl, Black Rose,” by Elizabeth McGill

You’re a treasure
A mystery
Portrayed as an angry black women
Little do they know
You’re as sweet as honey
Passionate about everything you do
The world doubts your culture
People are waiting for you to fail
You have a story unheard
Your hourglass figure is admired
Your luscious lips are hated but yet people pay to get their lips done
The touch of your chocolate smooth skin feels like butter
The smell of your warm vanilla perfume fills the room when you walk in
Black girl, black rose

No one understands you, you think people can’t handle your attitude
Maybe you can’t handle your attitude
You question everything you do
Social media trolls you
And for what?

To get the satisfaction of tearing somebody down to build themselves up
Wonder if they know that you were made by a king
The name above all names
The man upstairs
He made you in a splitting image of what he sees perfect
Black girl we love you.

“Ode To 4C Hair,” by Ja’nya Hill

Because you were not the ideal hair type
Because you are mocked
Frowned upon
And ridiculed
You are unique and beautiful
Like cotton, each strand like a spring
Your shrinkage deceives many
And they mock it for being so “short”
But boy are they wrong
The fresh smell of shampoo and coconut,
You wish you can taste, but it will most likely be bitter
When you brush, you hear the elastic strong strands

Zig zags,
Brown or black

You can style it in many ways, just be creative
Since you are not the ideal hair type
Since you are mocked,
Frowned upon,
And ridiculed
You are unique and beautiful

“The Overlooked Guardian,” by Kayla Rountree

Because you are not plaster walls covered in Crayola.
Because you are not fingerprint-smudged windows.
Because you are not the extravagant, or not-so-extravagant house.
You do not draw the attention of most, my overlooked protector.
To most, you are simply wood slabs and hinges,
But most also don’t know your history…
In Ancient Egypt, just wood slab and hinges, simply granting passage.
Just a baby, a newborn.
Doing simple tasks
Then you grew up, matured.
Well, somewhat…
In Ireland, when your Queen died
They told you to coat yourself in a midnight oil,
To drape yourself in darkness,
To mourn, to close.
But “Forget that. Screw you,” you said
A rebellious teen.
You shielded yourself in passionate reds,
Deep blues,
Exciting yellows.
A rainbow couldn’t compare to your pigments.
You said that you wouldn’t mourn the death of your Queen.
Not today, not ever.
And that is why you still stand.
You fought,
Your armor, a multi chromatic masterpiece.
A beauty.
Did you know that when you are painted red
in the arms of a church,
You represent sanctuary and safety?
But you make me feel sanctified and safe wherever you are.

Even when you are slammed in anger,
When I push you away,
Instead of pulling you closer to me,
You stay on your hinges.
A constant in my life for as long as I can remember.
A friend.
But I have overlooked you,
Neglected you.
And I’m so sorry.
You let me in,
You allow me to exit situations that you know aren’t right for me.
You protect me from the bitter cold,
Rescue me from unrelenting heat,
Anything that wishes me harm.
Even when you lock,
Shut me out.
I never feel alone because you always grant me a key.
Wood, aluminum, fiberglass, vinyl,
No matter how many physical changes you go through,
Your identity is never a secret to me.
And you always open up to me and that’s all that matters.
My best friend.
You grant me passage and lead me to new adventures,
And when the adventures are over and I return to you,
When I’m weary and tired,
You allow me to rest and watch me while I sleep,
Guarding me, protecting me, taking care of me.
My family.
To my overlooked, undervalued, unappreciated guardian
that never leaves me out
...well sometimes.
Thank you so much for everything, Door.

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posted by: WildwildWestEducator on December 21, 2018  4:30pm

Congratulations to Ms Breland and her students! Job well done! Great things are always happening at Hillhouse so glad there was a positive article on the school finally.

posted by: Chris Willems on December 21, 2018  6:12pm

These are powerful, personal, and very, very impressive poems!!!  Thank you Ms. Breland and your students for sharing your terrific work with us.  Our world needs more poetry and other public expressions of our shared humanity!