Karen Grigsby Bates

A Bouquet Of Poets For National Poetry Month

Apr 28, 2019

Poet Kevin Young says there are so many different kinds of poetry, even people who think they hate it should reassess. "I think of [poetry] more like music," Young told me last year. "Like, if someone said, 'I don't like any music,' I would be like 'Who are you? I don't understand.' They haven't found the right music to me, then."

Same with poetry, he says: "I think we have to help people find the right poem for them."

Ebony magazine was more than a publication — to black America, it was a public trust. It held a place of prominence in millions of African-American households whose members did not otherwise see themselves in the mainstream media. So back in 2015, when Johnson Publishing Company announced it was spinning off its flagship magazine, Ebony, and also its news magazine sibling, Jet, people knew something was up.

Today, ethnic studies is an accepted part of academia. Many if not most college students have taken a course or two. But 50 years ago, studying the history and culture of any people who were not white and Western was considered radical. Then came the longest student strike in U.S. history, at San Francisco State College, which changed everything.

The groundwork was laid for the strike a couple of years before, when black students organized to press for a black studies department and the admission of more black students.

The value of civility is one of the few things Americans can all agree on — right? That's the common assumption. And yet it's an assumption that depends on everyone thinking they're a full member of the community.

But what about when they aren't?

I miss Bill Cunningham. There. I said it. I miss opening the Thursday and Sunday pages of the New York Times and seeing a whole cross-section of humanity, courtesy of Cunningham's photos, that had become a documentation of how New Yorkers lived and what they wore.

Most of us remember the broad outlines of the story: 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was followed, shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., on the night of Feb. 26, 2012.

More than six weeks later, Zimmerman was arrested and, eventually, tried for second-degree murder in a case that would be as racially polarizing as the O.J. Simpson trial had been nearly 20 years earlier.

Melissa DePino didn't take the infamous April video that showed two black men being handcuffed and ejected from a Philadelphia Starbucks—but she agreed to post it.

"I know these things happen," the writer says, "but I'd never actually witnessed it myself. And when I saw it I thought 'people need to see this.'"

So she uploaded and pressed "send." It got millions of views, and people are still talking about it.

Third grade teacher Tony Osumi says he, like a lot of Americans, watched the recent news from the Southern US border with growing dismay. The images and sounds of wailing children being pulled from their tearful parents' arms and taken away to temporary shelters made him wince—and reminded him of the first day of school for children who hadn't been before.

Anthony Bourdain is being mourned, of course, by fellow chefs and foodies for his sardonic exposés about what really happens in the kitchens of some of America's best restaurants. And for his travels to explore the world's cuisines. But communities of color, women, people who are gender-different from the perceived norm — those people sent heartbroken tributes, too.

Back in May, 1963, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy invited a select group of black entertainers to meet with him at his father's apartment in New York City.

Singer-actor Harry Belafonte was there. So was Lorraine Hansberry, whose play about black upward mobility, A Raisin in the Sun, had received rapturous reviews when it debuted two years earlier. Writer James Baldwin came, as did singer Lena Horne. Each of the invitees was active in civil rights, and Bobby Kennedy was interested in hearing more about the movement.

A love story between a black Army nurse and a white German POW during World War II? You couldn't make that story up — and Alexis Clark didn't. The former editor at Town & Country is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of Journalism. I spoke with her about her new book, Enemies in Love, and what she learned about hidden Army history and the human heart.

Below is an edited version of our conversation.


What was the inspiration for this book, what got you rolling?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

During a fellowship to Harvard, writer Tayari Jones spent months and months studying the intersection of race and criminal justice. She learned a lot about the American criminal justice system. She knew all the grim statistics. But she was still searching for the inspiration for a novel she'd hope to write: one that involved an individual's encounter with the system, and the subsequent ripples that touch that person's community.

Then, while she was in Atlanta visiting her mother, she found what she needed during a routine trip to the shopping mall.

"Same insult, different day."

The world lost a lot of notable people this year, and it feels as if they're departing even more quickly as the year runs out. Activist/humanitarian Dick Gregory, actress/singer Della Reese, musicians Fats Domino, Al Jarreau, Geri Allen and Dave Valentin were all well-known names. So was journalist Roger Wilkins.

And so at year's end we've compiled our own Code Switch list. It's not comprehensive; instead, we wanted to spotlight some of the people we might not have known as well, and share them with you.

"England's First Black Princess!" lots of media blared a variety of that this week, immediately after the official announcement of what several tabloids have been speculating about for months: Prince Harry, brother of Prince William, son of Charles and Diana, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, is engaged. His intended, Meghan Markle, is American, divorced, three years older than the prince — and biracial. Which has led to a lot of breathless reporting that she is the first black member of the royal family.

The NFL continues to wrangle with its issue of players taking a knee during the national anthem, but this isn't the first time The Star Spangled Banner has collided with politics, race and a major sporting event.

The NFL's players are 70 percent black; its fans are 83 percent white and 64 percent male, according to online sports site The Real GM.

And when it comes to the controversy over the national anthem and players taking a knee, that statistic is playing a huge role.

Ask Luis Garza how the La Raza exhibition came to be at The Autry Museum of the American West, and he raises his palms, eyes heavenward:

"Karma," he says. "Fate. Serendipity. The gods have chosen to align us at this moment in time."

When high-priced LA lawyers get together for lunch, it's as likely as not they'll be someplace with white tablecloths, silver flatware and a wine list.

But today, attorneys from the big global firm Nixon Peabody are having chicken, rice and beans from a Mexican fast-food chain.

No ties or heels either, as the lawyers fill their paper plates and chow down while they listen to some instructions from Michele Seyler.

Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Airbnb has faced questions from people of color as to whether the company's worldwide "vacancy" sign really applied to them.

The company has been plagued by allegations and several lawsuits, predominantly but not exclusively from African-Americans, claiming discrimination.

This week in race: Bill Maher crosses a line; Kevin Hart takes a pass on President Trump; a Cosby Kid stands up for Dr. Huxtable. Let's get to it.

Can white artists understand the racial traumas people of color undergo in America enough to apply them to their work? Creating art about cultures other than your own — especially of populations that have been marginalized or oppressed — has once again come under fire.

Tennis queen Serena Williams is serious about trying new things this year. In addition to becoming engaged and being pregnant, La Serena has taken on the challenge of helping to diversify Silicon Valley — a task that might be hardest of all. Williams has joined the board of SurveyMonkey.

Oh, Code Switch fam: Has there ever been such a week? Because of the virtual smorgasbord of unfortunate news, you may have skipped putting these on your plate. Dig in. Keep a chaser of Pepto handy.

A lot of things in this country rely on information gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years. Congressional districts. Federally funded public works (bridges, tunnels) and emergency services. Decisions based on population estimates affect everyone in ways large and small, so an accurate count of who lives where is critical. That's why it was big news when the current Census director, John Thompson, announced he's stepping down. The abrupt departure left Census-watchers worried.

Fox News has been under fire in the past year for sexual harassment. First Fox chair Roger Ailes, then the network's favorite pundit, Bill O'Reilly, were forced to leave after multiple women complained of unwanted advances—and the blocked advancement they experienced when they didn't put out.

Be honest: You're looking at this story thinking what else is there to add to reports on the 1992 riots that rocked LA, right? NPR has done anniversary retrospectives before, including a huge look-back on the 20th. But in the past five years, the issue of policing — how it's done, whether it's equitable, what happens when deadly confrontations occur — has become more urgent than ever. And what happened in Los Angeles that April night 25 years ago is a critical part of the current national conversation on policing and race. For the LAPD, there have been huge changes.

The New England Patriots returned to the White House for the now-traditional visit to the president and presentation of a game helmet, jersey and other team-related swag. Correction, some of the Patriots visited the White House. Several, including most famously tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive back Devin McCourty and running back LeGarrette Blount, bowed out early on. (Blount was blunt: "I will NOT be going to the White House. I don't feel welcome in that house. I'll leave it at that," he told the Rich Eisen Show on Feb.

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