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CRMC, Kwame Alexander Release Community Poem After Jury Convicts Former Police Officer of George Floyd’s Murder

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Civil Rights Memorial Center (CRMC), in partnership with New York Times best-selling author Kwame Alexander, released a national community-led poem today following the guilty verdict in the murder trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.  

The poem, titled a “A Civil Community,” will become a new exhibit featured inside the CRMC when it reopens at the end of July with limited capacity. It temporarily closed last March in response to the global COVID-19 health crisis.

“This piece is a sort of testimony, a recognition on the momentous day after,” said Alexander. “People from all walks of life wrote poems, sharing their vision for America the beautiful. I am proud to have been a part of this project and look forward to it being on display when the Civil Rights Memorial Center reopens later this year.”

The CRMC asked Alexander to curate a community poem, just as he had done after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, as part of several renovations and updates planned for the Montgomery-based interpretive center which tells the stories of individuals who died in the struggle for freedom during the modern civil rights movement. Earlier this year, the CRMC and Alexander invited people across the United States to submit an original poem that began with the words “Remember” or “If you” to express their thoughts and feelings about racial justice and human rights today.

Students, teachers, parents and children across the country contributed nearly 1,000 poems for the project. Alexander took lines from select poems to create a single community poem.

“I am very proud of what we created together as a community,” said Tafeni English, director of the CRMC. “We hope this poem will inspire people of all backgrounds, just as it inspires us, to stand in the truth of this moment and continue to fight for justice and freedom for all people.”

“A Civil Community” will be displayed in the final gallery of the CRMC when it reopens later this year to offer visitors a moment of reflection at the end of their tours. The full text of the poem is available below.

A Civil Community

Remember our people

The dreamers.

The Browns and the Blacks

The ones who built bridges from inland to coast.

The ones who fought for justice and freedom.

The ones who couldn't be silenced—the hollering

of their heartbeat,

the hope in their words.

 

Remember Martin

Remember Assata

reaching beyond

that plantation haze,

sword-lilies blossoming

during our darkest times.

Sparrows singing

our victory song.

 

This is for the ones who can no longer sing

for themselves

for George Jackson

and George Floyd

for Lieutenant Colonel Lemuel Penn

and Breonna Taylor

For Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair,

Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley

for Emmett Louis Till

and Tamir Rice

 

This is for the summer streets

that once held our children’s laughs

now turned to gunshots

and mourning wails.

For the black lives

fired up

who can’t take no more.

 

Remember before your stores burned down,

you looted our mothers’ wombs.

 

Remember the middle passage

Remember the imperfect laws

Remember Selma

the churches bombed

the fire burning our souls

the Strange Fruit swinging above a faulted constitution

the bodies and souls left to harden,

the back of the bus

the walk of a million miles

just to get to one place

 

This is for the faithful

and the fearless

 

for Rosa Parks birthing a dream

for Harriet following that North star into possibilities,

for Paul Robeson’s soulful, deep, booming bass,

echoing like a cannon

shot in the still winter air

singing the spirit

climbing a mountain

rafting a river

sailing the seas

counting every one of us

who has not drowned

who has ever stood up.

We are an ocean.

Some of us, ripples,

others, waves.

We carry the boat

that heads into the horizon,

the moon guiding us

to a new dawn.

 

This for the Tuskegee Airmen’s heraldry

and Amanda Gorman’s yellow coat of arms

 

This is for Barack Obama’s audacity

and Rabbi Heschel’s faith

 

If you want to grow and understand

what it means to be human

remember we are one soul,

rooted in the same soil,

moving toward sky.

Soaring high.

 

When you hear the shouts of protest,

the feet marching,

the hands clapping

Embrace our knots.

Love our shades.

See us.

Beautiful black birds cropped

and culled

by the cruel night

of an alabaster storm.

Remember, we are singing

about struggle and strife

the caustic stain of stolen legacies

reminding us

to never forget

these stories

must be told

reminding us

to speak the truth

and say it loud.

 

Remember violence is a cycle,

but so is peace.

That is what we are fighting for

An end to chaos

A new birth of freedom

The ocean is our goal.

 

Grasp it

with your fingers clenched

in tight fists of unison

not to strike a brawl

but to tear down the wall

of division.

Grasp ​your​ rights

Grasp America

the beautiful.

 

This country is a house

This world, a village.

 

If we are to be a civil community

let us come in unity

Rise up out of the blue

Rise up into the light

Rise up out of the waters

Rise up into the sun

Rise up through the love

Rise up, reach for the freedom

Know that you are good enough

to end the rage

to turn the page

to stand with pride

to stand with peace

to lift your voice

to open your eyes

to rise

up

 

Together.

 

Compiled by Kwame Alexander

4/19/2021