Friday, August 4, 2017

Cell Blocks

Cell Blocks
By: Assata Patterson-Lyles

I walk in a room and I stand in the middle, as I stand here, in this old room, this old building
I realize it’s a cell. As I’m here, in this 21st century world I try to imagine the people who
Walked up and down this hallway, an’ ran across the field out back. All the people in the
Prison trying to make a living with the little light they get each day,and the some who don’t

get light, well they die, from depression, unhealthiness, and unhappiness.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Stand Up

Stand Up
By: Essence Pembleton

All these colors I never saw before burn at my eyes 
and I can't take them away now that you pointed them out 
skin color stands out like a sore thumb in the media 
"Black man shot by local cop. Claimed the man had a gun.
and everyone is trying so hard to have their opinions heard
but no one can hear them over the gun shots 
and the crying families all over America who lost their sons
or their daughters. The ones who were denied
and I've sat here so silently in my privilege afraid to speak out
but enough is enough and it's time to help
so I will stand beside every black family in America and 
we will try to win this fight

Dear Ancestors

Dear Ancestors
By: Salihah Aakil

Dear Ancestors,

What made you strong enough to endure what they did to you? How did you continue to enjoy life? How did you find time to create this beautiful culture and still manage to stay alive? What made you want to stay alive?
How can I ever thank you for staying alive?
When did they give up trying to kill you and start tormenting you instead?
Can you teach me the resilience you had, teach me to be the sun, the earth and the shadow between them?
Did you ever want to be more than ⅗ of a person if people acted like you masters did?
Did you ever truly believe they were your masters, that they were born with something that made them inherently better?
How did you stay so strong while they told you that you were weak, march on while still standing on your own two feet?
Who are you, I don’t know your name, your face, laugh, your pain, they made a point of acting like you never existed. They are the best actors they even like to play black folks sometimes. They even like to act like they're broke sometimes.
Can you teach me.. everything, like all the languages that drowned on the middle passage, all the music and dance you used to pass messages?
Can you tell me the stories of how the trees blessed our hair and made it look like them, how we rubbed sunlight and kisses into our skin and became golden children?
Can you tell me how we died, with warrior, hope and pride we died. Became queens after the sun set, became soldiers that they mistook for slinking shadows, like Sandra, like Trayvon, like Emmet, like Eva, like Tarika, Michael, Tanisha, Eric, Miriam, Shelly. Can you remind us how to die brave again, like you did?
Like - like how you did, like how you looked down at your heart as you bled and smiled about how black your blood was. Said,
“They’ll forget us when the sun’s gone but we’ll still be here, still staining their white walls black, still night time.”
All of my people are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of slaves be we don’t know how to be brave like you were. Can you teach us how to be brave like you were? How to fight even if our only struggle was breathing.


Bob Flemings

Bob Flemings
By: Amara Okongwu

Bob Flemings

Is it really enough that he is “everywhere...yet nowhere”?
No I don’t really think it is!
Surely if your mission was equality,  you could have done a better job than this,
For 200 years later we have evidence of supposed success, that “all men are created equal…”

But no sign of a man slave who slaved for those ruled and were regal.


By: Fionna Farrell

The softer the touch,
The harder the words;
Your hands are feathers
That tickle me awake
From a sombre sleep
That make my skin glow
And my soul hum
To the rhythm of
Your hypnotic song
But the words that
Escape your mouth
Are lined with daggers
That gnaw on my bones
And seep into my blood
With every squeeze
Of the shoulder
An “I don’t know’
With every draped arm
An “I don’t think so”
With every hug goodbye
A whispered “I’m sorry.”
As the velvet of your fingers
Fades into night air,
The weight of what’s said
Hangs atop my shoulders
Pressing until one day
It can be lifted by
Words from another,
Words incomparably sweeter,
Words that last longer
Than your touch

Wonderings Regarding Legacy

Wonderings Regarding Legacy
By: Henry Ziegler

Would I be remembered? Or would I merely descend into the teeming ranks of 'the ancestors', 'people back then', 'those who came before'? What is my legacy? Would my name and image live on in street signs, hospitals, train stations; would my name and image lend themselves to cities, states, or nations? What earthly actions of ours can guarantee a pedestal in the pantheon? 

Excerpt from Eastern State

Excerpt from Eastern State
By: Faith Chung

B-1381. I am no longer Jacob Pensendorfer, but prisoner B-1381 in the Eastern State Penitentiary. Everyday for 23 hours I sit in a tiny, dimly lit cell in pure silence except for the occasional shuffle.
As I close my eyes, all I can see is the beautiful face of Gloria Bennett, her melodic laugh chiming in my ears. “Jacob,” she laughed, dancing in a white dress. “Jacob!” Suddenly, she changes, dressed in rumpled, ripped clothes, bruises staining her pale limbs, hot blood dripping down her face. “Jacob,” she sobs, collapsing onto the floor exactly like she did 5 years ago.
“What happened?” I feel the question spill out of my mouth even though I already know the answer.
“Someone mu-mugged me,” she cries into my arms. “He, he hurt me.”
The vision changes and my hands that were comforting Gloria are now wrapped against the neck of the bastard that touched her. My shaking hands are curling around tighter and tighter, trying to squeeze the disgusting life out of him.
“Die!” I roar, angry tears spilling down my face. “How dare you mar her with your filthy hands!” Even when his body goes slack, I refuse to remove my murderous hands.
An hour later, the police find me screaming and crying, my hands wrapped around the neck of a deadman.
To this day, I have no regrets. Only bitter satisfaction.

Jacob Pesendorfer

Jacob Pesendorfer
By: Kenya Chestnut

Jacob Pesendorfer was convicted of homicide and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served twenty four years of his sentence before being pardoned. After being pardoned, Pesendorfer opened a woodworking shop in New Jersey. From his experiences in prison, he learned that prisoners should be given a second chance. He employed former prisoners at his woodworking shop.
        From Jacob Pesendorfer's Point of View

Right now I am in jail for killing someone. There is only one problem. I didn’t kill anybody. It’s been twenty four years and I am still here. I am probably one of the longest serving prisoners. Each day I wonder If I will ever get out of here. Unfortunately life can just be unfair. I still have hope that one day I will be set free from here to see my family. If I ever get out of here, I will open some type of business where I will employ former prisoners. My story shows that not all prisoners are guilty. I have learned here that not all prisoners are evil and that worthy prisoners should be given a second chance. Who knows? Maybe I will open a woodworking shop back home in New Jersey for former prisoners if I am ever pardoned.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Eastern State

Eastern State
By: Julianna Reidell

The beginnings of a short narrative based off information acquired during our tour of Eastern State Penitentiary , as well as an overview of a former convict, James Dix. Told from the point of view of another, fictional, as yet unnamed convict. The time period of James’s incarceration may not correlate to some of the practices mentioned here, as well as details I made up in an attempt to further explore what the man might have been like during his lifetime. Apologies.n

Prisoner: James Dix
Narrator: ?

Four years now, and he’s back. I  recognize the premature balding; stubble sculpting his thin, sloping face; stick-out ears and dark eyes. There’s something eerily liquid about that stare - a fathomless mystery, gleaming  dimly with truths you’d rather never know:  two deep, dark holes in what could otherwise be the  mundane face of your carpenter, your brother, your husband. Perhaps he is.
But he’s back, so he’s not anyone, now.
Now he, like me and every other unfortunate wretch trapped here, is just another lifeless husk in this Penitentiary, this gate to Hell. My mother was religious, and in the hysteria of my own arrival I shied away from flickering flames illuminating cell doors, subtle horns protruding from each overseer’s thick skull, and nests of vipers writhing throughout my food, beneath the walls. Now, the same deadly serpents are reflected in the eyes of the man before me.
I wonder if he remembers me. My mind flickers through all the grimy, shadowed faces from across the long years, but he stands out, as though etched in fire and echoed by brimstone.
James, chatters the voice in my mind. After all this time, I’ve begun to forget if it’s my own or not. James Dix.
The man with the smile.
Though I have withstood this place far longer than he, seen and heard too much to experience fear, my breaths shallow as, almost placidly, just within the walls, he turns to me.
Eyes rake my face.
I can’t breathe.
… … …
We shouldn’t have met in the first place, of course. Not with the musty, coal-hued hoods forced over our heads when transported. That first time, all the bloody horror tales and sinister ghost stories by brother Elijah ever whispered in the depths of night pounded through my head with such vigor and terror that I fought back -  kicking, screaming, and biting at the rank black cloth until I realized they weren’t taking me to an execution.
Then I wept, and for that, I think they hated me all the more.
That was the first time I wore the Iron Gag.

It wouldn’t be the last.

Words of a Revolution

Words of a Revolution
By: Paul Stowell

Today we are free
Free from the cruelties that once constricted us
Independent from the struggles of our past 
With a world of water between us and yesterday's suffering.

Now we start anew  
Eager to embark on this long awaited adventure
Surrounded by uncharted territory and unwritten history
Within a land of limitless opportunity 

The war was won
Our freedom has been declared 
And as we begin to fulfill our dreams of the past
One can only imagine what the future holds


By: Husnaa Hashim

On this day
I hear Nikki Giovanni
Both laugh and cry on podcast
She sends wishes for Black youth out to space
In love with Mars
Moving forward
Because west Africans survived the middle passage just the same
The first Americans to celebrate Ramadan in the new world
Engraved the al-Fatiha into tombstones as holy prayer
Ancestors. How do I bring you justice, best?
“This is a rocket. Let's ride.”
I wash book bags with lavender oil and vinegar
Read Rumi dancing to the beat of love and wine rivers
Smell tea
In the rose shrubs out front
Fold cilantro and basil seeds into godly crevices
“I am Black because I come from the Earth’s inside.”
This is more than planting herbs and weeding garden
This is
It is about dissecting my skin -
Codifying a lineage through the coffee grounds; violated burial grounds of
Philadelphia soil ladened with the burden of disintegrating Native bodies
How I dig up the remains to plant my roses
On this day
What is the opposite of healing bruised Earth?
Is it the bruising?
I uproot weeds, crocuses, and bluebells but not
Are the cystic acne of Mother Earth’s perfectly blemished skin
How I would much prefer my skin to be adorned with dandelions over acne
On this day
I sway to Audre Lorde’s journal entries from the 80s written in a cancer
Treatment center in Switzerland
Think about her walking eurythmy
Across wooden floorboards and holding her lover
How is Giovanni still alive?
The namer of the shooter before the shooting
The giver of peace to a community
How did Lorde find the will to keep living with the cancer spreading?
Angry Black womanness engulfing her body
The white patriarchy draining her breasts of naturalized power
We Sister Outsiders do not have the luxury of peeling away our
Us-ness and setting it aside
Like a rotting carcass or shriveling snake skin
I ponder
my existence; what it means to be a human being being human.
On this day
Until I find some truth
I will
Keep sprinkling wildflower seeds
Germinating sunflowers in the empty oven
This is the only way
I know

To grow

A social change

A social change
By: Simone Daniels

I would like to be able to achieve world peace. While world peace is a long shot nothing is impossible. I think we need to start within ourselves and make the change. Senseless violence has become a major epidemic. I've noticed that a lot of kids my age like to be out in the streets and do what they think is "cool". I see people on social media flaunting guns, money, drugs, and sex. When did that become cool? When did being smart become "uncool"? We have to be the change we wish to see in this world. I would like to see an end to the violence. I want Philadelphia to go back to being the city of brother love instead of being the city of brotherly hate. We all are capable of change but we must be the change. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Man Walks into a House

A Man Walks into a House
By: Malcolm Margasak

A Man Walks into a House

A man walks into a house.  The man isn't special, or doesn't have to be at least. He doesn't even have to be a man. The house is kind of special though. It is a historical house, like Monticello or mount Vernon or the Bishop White House. The tour guide to the house would use the imagination of the man to make him smell the chamber pots, feel the thick black smoke from the fireplace, and hear the bustle of servants. But why is the man really there? Is he just here to learn, or is there something else? Lets imagine the man is a white anglo saxon male.  Is he supposed to identify with Thomas Jefferson and fantasize about what his glorious past life would have been like?
Let's say the man is me. I am from Slavic Jewish, Irish Catholic, and white anglo saxon ancestors. White by today's standards, but not a possible property owner back in the eighteenth century. I might have had to been extremely poor or an indentured servant, so what am I supposed to think or feel? I am closer to the image of Jefferson than some, but back then I would have been far beneath him. When I walk into Monticello am I supposed to feel angry at Jefferson for being a member the evil capitalist ruling class of the 18th century? Or look up to him as someone who wrote the Declaration of Independence, or, more importantly, a member of the early American elite? Am I supposed to use Jefferson as a goal, and compete to become as rich as possible at the expense of others?   
But why would I want to be like him? He made money (minus the money he inherited) on the backs of slaves, profiting at other’s pain. He even enslaved his own children with Sally Hemmings. To enslave own your child takes a truly sick man. But the way the tour is set up certainly wants to make me like and identify with Jefferson, which I do for a certain time because I'm a white male and it's easy.
But what if the man who walks into the house isn’t me and is black like someone Jefferson would have owned?  He would have a harder time conforming to the house’s wish of identifying with Jefferson. I why should he care about Monticello and really why should I? You may say, the house isn't telling you to be any particular way, it just is.  But that is not true. The people who made the historical site a museum, the people who fund it, their beliefs and wishes shine through, and often the funders are wealthy white men, the Jeffersons of our day. I remember going on a tour of the Johnson House in Germantown. The tour guide put a heavy emphasis on the house’s history in the underground railroad, as does the website and most of it’s recent historical praise. It is owned by Johnson House Historic Site Inc. But before that when it was owned by the Germantown Women’s club, who told the story as more significant in the revolutionary war. You can see the changing ownership changes what history is brought to life. Although this is still better than the purpose being to glorify Jefferson, it is still an example that the owners of  these historical sites can make the person or persons they embody seem a certain way, kind of remold that person, also kind of remold the history. Are these really monuments to them, to tell us that they are like the Jefferson image they want you to see, your local friendly member of the elite?  Are they tryIng  to make us more accepting of them as who they are? What is their motive? There definitely is one.
Of course there are those who just say they like history. But what about history. I went to the battle of Germantown reenactment when I was younger and had a great time. My eardrums ached afterward from the explosions and the shouting, but i had a lot of fun watching people in costumes act out the battle. As a boy I was just concerned about history as a story, no more or less important than say Harry Potter, and I liked that about it. At the reenactment there were several different tables from different historical societies and organizations. I went up to chat with one and learned to join you must trace your ancestors back the the revolutionary war to join. What about history does this “society” like? The exclusivity they can artificially manufacture? The glorification of  their ancestors and by that themselves? Or do they just want a good story.
What kind of historical site would go to my ancestors. A refurbished nineteenth century firehouse in Kensington to pay homage  to the glorified Irish fire men of old? The same irish firemen who murdered Octavius Catto in cold blood?  Would this become a place where Catto is remembered, or would it become a place where the killing of him is remembered and the fire company glorified. If that is the case, I want nothing to do with it. Even if you took the racial tensions out of it, why would I want to remember the poverty of my ancestors?
I don't know how I would like history to be told. I could say in the most unbiased way possible, but every way is biased. Even if I told history it would be biased. I am not immune. I don't know how history will be told, or why we tell it. Is it because we need to learn from our mistakes in the past to not make them again? No, I think that may be part of that, but it’s bigger. I think history is told to tell something about the teller, a kind of reflection. And in our age of alternative facts, it certainly says a lot.

Some of Us

Some of Us
By: Salihah Aakil

In the morning some of us won’t be here. Some of us will be well on our way to a terra cotta sunset.
It’s not that we didn’t care to stay it’s just that we can’t live here any longer. Because some of us will die in the morning and the rest of us will finally know that home no longer means sanctuary. No longer means glowing, warm fire and a strong mother’s arms. In the morning some of us won’t be here, we’ll be trying to swim and not sink in the murky black waters that pull us downward. Dropped off a tree with a thick, coarse noose around our necks we will fall, downward. We will feel the tree behind us promising that it will make our bodies part of its roots and help us live on.
But thankfully most of us will refuse to die in fact we will insist that we can fly.
Winged things are the best of us they can always manage to occupy the space that lies between consciousness and dreaming, it's not a place meant for humans. But in the morning some of us will try to reach it.
And if we fail then we’ll always have the horizon to cushion our fall. Catch us in the crooks of it’s arms near the place where everything is burning.
In the morning some of us won’t be here and we’ll live on to tell the stories of the valiant warriors that dared to stay behind.

In the morning some of them won’t be here. Some of them will be somewhere between consciousness and dreaming, some of the will be well on their way to a better place and some, some will be long gone. In the morning none of us will cry because they moved on and we will see them again some day,
the sky won’t turn red when the sun sets some day.
So you and I hold out hope.
In the morning some of them will have to leave, some of them have a people to protect and they’ll promise to remember us. And with our hands on our hearts we swear to remember that they honor every promise.
In the morning some of us will die here but we’ll remember that some of our people learned to fly when the angel of death lent them it’s wings.
That’s when they were truly free.
Exploring the things we could only comprehend as stars but turned out to be shining miracles. Shimmering, spinning, glowing, shining miracles, and some of us will dance the way constellations do.
In the morning some of us will rise with the sun as warriors and champions and poets and we won’t forget how much we love morning time.

In the morning some of them won’t be here anymore and each morning to come a few more will leave. No one will mourn their lose and the fools that dared to stay behind and fight, no one will cry for. We the powerful ones won’t allow it.
In the morning we the powerful ones will drive them out and for the ones who promised their families that they were born and would die in this land. Well, we’ll remember that they honor every promise. Send them back to the hell from whence they came because this land is ours now!
And in the morning they’ll finally know it.

In the morning some of us we will live on.
In the morning all of us will succeed.

In the morning us powerful ones will think we can win.

His Best Friend

His Best Friend
By: Jasmine Greene

Me: There is nothing more awkward for me than trying to talk to you.
I crumble and mumbled as if there were words I could think of to describe how I feel.
I try and we fail
You’re not helping me! I want us, you and I. Rejected
You push me away. Pushed and fell into a deep hole of depression. Empty and pitch black.
The only person there is I, thinking why? Why am I here? Because of him.
Why aren’t you here, with me? Because of I.
Does he even care about me?
Him: “Every time I see her I try to stand but my whole body shakes and trembles.
My eyes water, always on the verge of tears. But I can’t do anything, have nowhere to run, no one to talk to. No one to listen to what I have to say. I am lost.
Me: I’m here
Him: Like I said “no one to listen.”
Me: I’m here let me in nobody else in here but me! Just let me in no horror could scare me, no sadness can drown me.
Him: “Then I talk to her, the girl that’s is always with me.“
She’s “always asking I if I need help.”
Me: I am “Always asking him if he needs help.” “His friend.”
Him: My friend
Me: I finally see it.
Him: “It stabs at my eyes, a little crack of light that itself free.
She says something amazing. Only six words.”
Me: He “finally stands up and starts to walk. Nothing gets in the way.”
Him: “I had freed my demons.” Thank you.
Us: “After all, you’re my friend.”

Jasmine Greene and Aidan McCord Amaris

Thank you to my friend Aidan McCord Amaris for letting incorporate his poem “One Word” into my poem His Best Friend. Thank you again!