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Police Violence, Civil Disobedience Inspire Dialogue and Poetry in the Classroom

The killings of unarmed black men by police in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and elsewhere and the public’s responses to these unsettling events have not gone unnoticed by educators and scholars at Success Academy.

The shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the decisions by grand juries not to punish the police officers involved in each case prompted some teachers to participate in civil protests, while others encouraged dialogue in their classrooms.

More recently, these events inspired students at SA Harlem East to use poetry as a vehicle for expressing their feelings and ideas — not just about these cases, but about real issues that affect them and their communities.

Sean Cain, a humanities teacher at SA Harlem East, is the advisor for the school’s literary magazine. He recently showed his students two photographs. One, taken Dec. 13, shows more than 25,000 people marching through the streets of Manhattan to protest police violence in communities of color. The other, taken Nov. 25, shows hundreds of protesters who shut down Broadway as they marched with their hands up to bring attention to Michael Brown’s death.

Mr. Cain says the images triggered a variety of emotional responses and ultimately inspired his students to write poems for the magazine. These poems are now part of a bulletin board display at the school, next to other bulletin boards carrying the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” Families who attended the school’s Black History Month celebration on Feb. 26 were able to read these poems.

We want to honor our scholars and their work, as well as the experiences that shape who they are. In that spirit, we share with you some of the poems written by middle school scholars at SA Harlem East.

By Michael Cachie

At night no light.
At morning no light.
At noon no light.
Just darkness and it gets
Darkness is here.
And it will remain
There forever.

Michael I can relate to
Michael Brown I can’t relate to
Teen with light
But darkness came
And it struck him and
Everyone else.

And Eric Garner had
Light and tried to be the best
Dad but darkness struck
Us and him we don’t want death.

The Past
By Emmanuel Bonsu

It’s night and I hear prayers, crying,
shouting and more of that. I guess
World War III is building up. Filled streets,
I see and people debating.
All around the streets
We’re trapped in the


Occasional Poem
By Alexa Rivera

Hands up don’t shoot they say
making us think about our own lives
making us worried at the end of the day

Then I can’t breath came around
I’m chocking to death made us think
even more about what we say or do
and that made us feel like a dog chained
in a pound

Then all of us decided to make other
people think to make them notice our
decisions and others, so others wanted
to give people a wink

Epitaph Poem
By Jada Pagan

Hands up we are here to show the memories
We are being inspired by Michael Brown and Eric Garner
So what if we are black
Segregation is over
Think of lives
Think of the families the white police hurt
Right now there are three black males killed
One is killed cause he robbed a bank
Second is killed cause he had a fake gun
Third is killed cause he was breaking up a fight
Shouldn’t we all be equal?

By Nathan Smith

Black lives matter.
It appears to me how much died.
I have a Jamaican family that is all
black. Will they get killed too?
Cruel people are everywhere.
Black lives matter.

Black Community Poem
By Aidan Ward

Eric Garner
Michael Brown
What do we do
to kill us?
When the black community
rises up, you can’t

Michael Brown Poem
By Nawa Karamoko

all the way down,
on the streets,
all different types of personalities,
all scrambled jumbled up,
on the streets,
with their hands up,
and signs,
their hands up high,
as if they want to reach me,
in heaven.

By Nasya Quinn

People say I’m black
I’m brown
Ain’t nothing going to change that

There is a month dedicated to my race
How we fought for our rights


We don’t need it
We don’t need praise
Everybody could forget
About our fight, our struggle
We will remember
How our race changed
From a slave society
To a respected society
Because we fought, we cared
About our life, our family’s life

Free Verse
By Oumy Mbaye

Symbols mark their experiences suffer hurt but helped
The eyes of them there speeches to make a big change, equal
Their dreams, and hopes, and legacies still live on, they helped
Now we are here hand in hand all treated equal.

By Laiah Martin

Please stop it really hurts
stop stop stop stop stop stop stop
Please stop it really hurts

Written by Success Academy March 2, 2015

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