African-American history should be studied all year long

February 26, 2012
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Look onto crowded Harlem sidewalks and street corners.
Look onto every shade from peach to the deepest, darkest plum.
Look into the black jeweled face of an innocent eight-year-old
With freshly-cornrowed hair and thick molasses skin.

She looks in the mirror and doesn’t see

The first kings and queens that graced the earth.
She can’t see the mighty warriors and Nubian princesses that were
As much her foundation as the earth’s soil itself.

Her ebony eyes stare so intensely, never blinking

Searching, trying to penetrate the image of a plain colored girl.
Hoping, wanting, needing to see her ancestors
Building, inventing, teaching — everything we take for granted.

She doesn’t know the mirror hides her heritage,

Concealing her powerful brothers and sisters:
Mr. Baldwin and Mr. X, Maya and Alice,
Billie Holiday and Harriet Tubman,
Frederick Douglass, Harold Washington and Booker T.,
Fred Hampton and Spike Lee, and Angela Davis.

Poets, painters, directors, dancers,

Musicians, athletes, politicians and doctors.
Our people overflow with black gold.
We are creative, resilient, full of pride and strength
Taught to us by the knowledge of our own achievements.
Knowledge that can be reflected as self love
Through each and every glance in the mirror.

Our children deserve more than 28 days —

One month — representing centuries of history.
They need 365 days each year to learn where they came from,
To know who they are, where they’re going,
And what they can do when they get there.

Look at the precious children crowding Harlem sidewalks

And hopscotch-filled city streets.
What will we teach them to see
When their black opal eyes glance at the next reflection?
A tarbaby or an ancient queen? A jigaboo or an African king?
Our foundation: black gold, solid and rich.
Without that knowledge we are powerless.

Maya Lian Turner, who will graduate from University of Nevada later this year, won a college scholarship to attend Howard University with this poem. She is named after poet Maya Angelou. 

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