This poem started at a local restaurant months ago. A man stood up and slapped the waitress, outraged that she had served him beans instead of fresh meat. “Worthless,” he stated.
Overwhelmed by the emotions running through me, I muttered an, “I’m sorry. You are not worthless. You are so strong.” As if my few words could do anything.
This poem started as a notepad on my coffee table. A collection of responses and reactions to incidences I have heard, witnessed, and experienced. Incidences I have bitten my tongue or swallowed my tears through. A growing poem with each day; a reflection of my twenty-something years in this world.
This poem was on my coffee table on Saturday morning as my neighbors came inside to enjoy the usual “American coffee” and recently downloaded Justin Bieber song. As Danny and I practiced our letters on the slate I looked over at Lucky, the oldest of the girls next door who just finished her final exams of secondary school. Lucky, a girl I taught to make RUMPS and how to fix her mosquito net, was seated across from me smiling and intensely reading my chicken scratch on the notepad. She asked if she could copy the poem down so that she could read to her friends at school. This was the exact moment I realized that his poem could be used for more than just household clutter.
One thing led to another on Saturday so Lucky and I spent six hours making this video. She would translate the poem into Lugbara for girls as we reeled them in to have their snap taken for any sentence they chose. I loved the energy of the children, boys and girls, eager to spread this message. Parents gathered (to give permission), where I had a great conversation with one woman who told us, “But, this is the African way. This is our culture.”
Then Lucky spit out the exact words I had told her that morning. “Gender inequality is not our culture, it is a tradition. Traditions can change. They should change. If traditions never changed then America would still have slavery.”
To all the beautiful humans out there: don’t let anybody tell you what you can or cannot be. Or do. Or say. Or think. Or feel. Don’t give up. And don’t ever think that you are “worthless.”
And to the outraged man with his beans, I feel very sorry for you. I hope nobody ever treats your daughter, or sister, or mother the way that you treated our waitress.
I was not put on this earth to be in discipline.
To follow your rules
To speak only when spoken to.
Or to bow in your presence.
I have a voice.
I have dreams.
And I have a name.
It is not wife.
Or “my size.”
I am good for more than my pretty face,
And child-bearing hips.
And because no 28-day cycle
Should keep me from school.
Or make me feel ashamed.
Someday we will see that this world has offered itself to us.
All of us.
This world allows us to be inspired.
To not only chase the dreams we seek refuge in but to basque in the glory of NOW.
And the self-doubt.
The dreams that drive us through the bad days.
This is the moment when being a girl is my strength.
This is the moment when the world needs its girls.
All as one.
To stand up and to speak out.
To say “no” and to mean it.
To protect the sacred keys to our bodies and minds.
For they are ours
And ONLY ours.
To advocate for not only ourselves,
But for humankind.
Because that’s what we are, right?
Humans who deserve to love and be loved.
To learn, to laugh, and to lead.
We are all human.