Day 28: Two Poems // Teaching in Inner City Chicago // 2002 {31 Days of #WOKE}

teach (2/19/02)

I am afraid of the water.

Cold, murky,

yet others play


Whether I jumped

or was pushed,

I don’t know.

But I do know

that if

I don’t drown,

I may learn to swim.


limbless (2/12/02)

Like the babies born without arms,

without legs;

can I teach them,

pretending they are whole?

Not Civil Rights,

the Kush Empire

or the three branches of government,

but “Please.”

“Thank you.”

“Excuse me.”

“Don’t hit when she hits you.”

“Sit quietly when you are cursed

–when he talks about your mamma.”

As he throws a tantrum over

not getting called on to read about

brown v. board.

“Shut up.”

“I hate you.”

“You look like a black monkey.”

Imagining they are whole

even as I watch them

dismember themselves.


For further reading: What ‘White Folks that Teach in the Hood’ Get Wrong about Education

Day 13: Words (A Poem) {31 Days of #WOKE}

My students
found interest
in the difference
between “oppressed” and “repressed.”

Like the time I explained
the word “minority”
to Jaquisha,
who has lived
as a black girl
in a black world
her whole life.

“Pressed down,”
I said.
means ‘pressed down.’”

not grasping
the meaning.

not knowing they already
understand the meaning
without knowing
the word.

–Leslie Verner (written 2002 while teaching middle school in North Lawndale, Chicago)

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.