A month ago, as Amanda Gorman shared her beautiful prose during President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration, students at KIPP Rise Academy in Newark had recently finished their latest history unit on the enslavement of Africans in America. Students at Rise, a public charter school that serves students in fifth through eighth grades, were asked to think carefully about the unit and create a project that explained the connection between modern days and the era of slavery.

Makayla Brown, a KIPP Rise seventh grader, wrote this poem, entitled “The Root of Racism.” A future poet laureate, perhaps?

The Root of Racism

My joy went away

Learning about that one day in 1619

The first slave ship arriving with 20-30 enslaved people

The first time my ancestors were declared

As property

Their lives

Worth 1,000 dollars.


My memories

Of reading books and articles

Seeing my people lynched, burned, and

Working in a white man’s field

For 396 years with no pay

Seeing our hair pulled from our heads

Cut, shaved, burned and stuffed in chairs

My memories of learning

That my great great great grandmother

Could’ve been leather

My rights, non-existent

And culture stripped

“Speak proper English” but you didn’t teach me

And even after this we still struggled

We still had to fight for a right to be a alive,

Mothers and fathers kneeling to the white man

Yet 396 years later we still aren’t free

Seeing our people killed

On a mobile device and even in person

All because of skin

And now?

All lives matter?

Yet my Indigenous brothers and sisters,

Kidnapped, and bigoted

As if it’s something normal?

All lives matter

Until a person decides to speak in their native language

Because they can

All lives matter

But a 12 year old child was gunned down

Over a toy

All lives-

We remember

The deaths of our people

For skin

But my culture is now “trendy”

Blackface is “just a costume”

“I want to be a Native American for Halloween”

My culture isn’t your costume

A white woman goes viral for wearing traditional

Japanese kimono and

Wearing other things like African print

And loves hanging “dream catchers” on her wall

But to her I’m nothing but a Monkey

To her and to society

They are nothing but calculators

To her and anyone else

We’re not human

We’re ghetto, nasty and dirty

But our culture and clothing

Our beautiful skirts and dresses with wonderful vibrant colors

Our food oh so yummy

But we still do not exist

The roots of racism was bad enough

But people still do not understand our struggle

Proud Boys, KKK, and other hate groups still cease to exist

All we can remember is making sure not to go outside at night

In the south

We only remember our struggle

From the day my people arrived on that boat

Did much really change?

“Make America great again”

But where exactly was it great Mr. White Man


The traumatic past all people of color have faced

Is no “American Dream”

There is no American Dream

Racism is still here

And it’s not much different from the past

Our minds

Our hearts

Our souls

Remember the roots to our oppression

We remember


This post originally appeared on NJ Education Report.
Laura Waters was weaned on education and equity issues. Her mom was a social worker and her dad was a social studies teacher in New York City public schools. She can no more get this passion out of her blood than she can her New York accent, even though she has lived in Central Jersey now for over 25 years.


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