Under All the Toughness

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826NYC Books 372 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11215 Under All the Toughness: Stories, Sketches & Fragments from the High School for Global Citizenship Š 2020 by 826NYC and the authors. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. First 826NYC edition 2020 Manufactured in the United States of Brooklyn 978-1-948644-55-6 The writing in this book was produced in the 2019-20 school year at 826NYC’s In-schools Publishing Project at the High School for Global Citizenship in Brooklyn. The classes were run by Willie Filkowski with the support of Molly Jo Gorevan, as well as 826NYC writing mentor Elise Ingber. Designed by Jess Frampton Edited and proofread by Lauren Stefaniak, Lala Jackson, Carly Fisher, Allie Singer, Rachel Davies, and Hillary Tacuri. Printed by Bookmobile This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, The Jane Friedman Anspach Family Foundation, The Hawkins Project, The Minerva Foundation, The Resnick Family Foundation, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, and The Susan Stein Shiva Foundation. The following individuals have provided donations to support our programs: Aziz Ansari, Ray and Ami Carpenter, Sarah Connolly, Amir Mokari, Tammy Oler and Ehren Gresehover, David and Lori Schnadig, Jason Sinay, Alyson Stone, Maura Tierney, and Ted Wolff and Anne Clarke-Wolff. Additional support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.

826NYC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our belief that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

This book is intended for mature audiences, with some topics, themes, and language that may not be suitable for younger readers.

TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S I. DEAR AMERICA 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 12 13 14 15 17 18 19 21 22 23 24 25 27 28 30 31 32 34

The Blood of Kings / E’nasia Smith America To Me / E’nasia Smith 5 Senses / Kenneth Chapman Jr. The Opposite of Silence / Emily Antoine Dear White America / Queensly Jean-Francois We Built This Town / Emmanuel Lopez BEING BLACK (Dear White America / Years​. / JOY) / Breyana Thomas TO WHOMEVER THIS CONCERNS / Johnny Griffin Not Enough / Epifania Jarquin Blessed Be America / Ricardo Carrasco I’M SCARED / Janiah Hines A Place Called America / Kayla Cooper Why?/We Need / Kerisa Phillips I Am Black / Jahanni Barrett Dear America / Kay Obasa Dark vs. Light / Jonathan Louis Imagination Connoisseur / Thoukir Preeo Dear America / Samyya Vandenberg Free / Diana Moreno Dear America / Emmanuel Lopez Culture Thief / Diana Moreno Dear White AmeriKKKa / Kayla Clark Facing Myself / Bethany Augustin Who Am I? / Amaya Paton America Standing Together for Change is What I Enjoy / Sulaiman Ayalami

II. LOVE / LIFE 37 38 39 41 42 43 44 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 54 55 56 58 59 60

The Love of a Rabbit / Jada Sylvester Do You / Jaden Brumell DEAR BABY BOY / Nevaeh Cassidy I Was Conflicted / Michael Pierre Finally Happy / Jonathan Louis Quarantine Depression / Justin Hall The Truth Behind the Lies / Bethany Augustin The Laugh with Many Meanings / Kimberly Romero Tamra / Breanna Lessey What It Is / Ian Simpson Who Do I Love? / Samere Staye-Telemaque Stoic Affection / Bethany Augustin You Can / Nicholas Samuel Angels / Alexia Foster Joy II / Ian Simpson True Love / Julesha Uter Facing Myself / Kimberly Romero Mirror, Mirror / Samyya Vandenburg One Day / Samyya Vandenburg LOVE / Hervens Camille

TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 77 78 79 80 81

Always / Breyana Thomas Sick and Tired / Angelique Mann MAMÁ / Julissa Naxi A Battle for the Century / Oswald Clarke The Show Must Go On / Maria Barrera The Loupe / Maria Barrera Carry On / Maria Barrera 2020 / Nicholas Samuel An Unbreakable Love / Kerisa Phillips Love Just Hurts / Kayla Cooper I’m Still Waiting for You / Tramayne Baxton FIRST LOVE / Nevaeh Cassidy Mami / Diana Moreno Grateful for You / Nevaeh Cassidy Under All the Toughness / Kayla Cooper You / Tramayne Baxton Unforgettable / Maria Barrera Love Shattered / Sulaiman Alyamani Sometimes, I Be Wondering / Hervens Camille

III. JOY 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 IV. 25 107

Joy Comes From the Small Moments in Life / Kimberly Romero Anime Fever / Breanna Lessey Find Your Happiness / Kenneth Chapman Jr. Home / Krystal Brown Poem of Joy / Michael Pierre Happiness / Kayla Cooper One of the Best / Queensly Jean-Francois All the Little, Special, and Big Things in Life / Kerisa Phillips We Could All Enjoy / Madison Moore In Search / Marvin Pierre-Pierre Repetition of Joy / Khavon Hayes Not Alone / Alexia Foster Joy-Pain / Ian Simpson The Gateway to Joy / Thoukir Preeo Bring Me Joy / Tramayne Baxton Journey to Joy / Samyya Vandenberg Joy / Ronald Black The City of Money / Ian Simpson Create to Overthrow / Alexia Foster Real Joy / Jahanni Barrett What Brings Me Joy / Johnny Griffin

25 a short story / Kayla Clark


A Mirror Deception a short story / Janiah Hines

FOREWORD When this 826NYC x High School for Global Citizenship residency started, we set out to write an anthology of dystopian short stories. Our rough definition of dystopia was “a society where everything has gone wrong.” We looked at Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for inspiration. I asked the students to write their visions of what it might look like to be a hero living in a society where everything had gone wrong. And then, during the course of our project, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, while jogging, by two white men. Breonna Taylor was murdered by police while she slept. COVID-19 shut down New York, the country, and the world, claiming nearly half a million lives so far. George Floyd was murdered by police. Tony McDade was murdered by police. Rayshard Brooks was murdered by police. And the police gassed and clubbed the people in the streets rising up against police violence. And then the project of inventing a whole new dystopia started to seem trivial. We were already living in one. On Ms. G’s suggestion, we turned to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. for inspiration in finding poetry in rage and in resistance while living in a society where everything has, indeed, gone wrong. The brilliant authors of the High School for Global Citizenship wrote a kaleidoscopic vision of what it’s like to be a hero living in a society where everything has gone wrong. It is a vision that is filled with equal parts joy and rage. It is a vision that believes white supremacy and police brutality can be defeated. It is a vision that deeply feels the rhythms of friendship & family, the lightning strike of new love, and the bliss of blueberry pancakes. Enjoy this beautiful and generous work. Black lives matter. Willie Filkowski Teaching Artist, 826NYC June 2020

T HE B LOOD OF KINGS by E’nasia Smith

America. Stained with the blood of our kings. Sweat dripping from their melanated skin as they run from the boys in blue. I can’t breathe. You’re gonna kill me. Mama. 1863. Freedom! No more whips or shackles. Only batons and handcuffs. I can’t breathe.


A M E RICA TO ME by E’nasia Smith

America, home of the brave, land of the free. That’s what they say, and here’s what I see: America, made off the backs of slaves, land stolen from the Native Americans. America’s a fraud. O, say, can you see?



by Kenneth Chapman Jr.

Open your eyes. I can’t see like you, not because I’m blind, but because I can’t see why I live in a world where you came from a completely different past than mine. Smell the air. You smell all the smoke and bullet shells aimed at my brothers and sisters because they defended me, yet they’re struggling to hold onto life with their last strand of hair. Listen to the world. Hear the riots and the gunfire, we scream and fight for our freedom everyday that we live, constantly pushing forward. However, we get shot down by the police as if we were a part of their training drills. Feel the ground beneath your feet. That same land you walk on is the same land on which my ancestors were stripped of their humanity and to this day, they leave us to rot in the street, until they feel it’s time to lock us away and put us out of our misery. Taste that victory. We’ve tasted victory, and we won’t stop fighting until we finally prevail. From generation to generation, we won’t stand for this. Kill us off if you must, but one day we will win the war. We’ll only come back three times harder than we did before, only pushing towards our true freedom. When that day comes, we can finally use all five of our senses and realize that we are truly free.


T HE O P POSITE OF S ILE NC E by Emily Antoine

America. One nation, they said. Indivisible, they said. Liberty and justice for all? What a joke. But what can you expect from a country that was built on the suffering of others? Got the president of the United States, dare I say his name, wishing for “America to be great again?” But when has it ever been great? When you had us as slaves? Dictated our lifestyle? Got free labor? And when we defied you, you enforced slave patrols to catch the “rebellious ones?” Lynched us from trees, for the whole town to see? I’m guessing that’s when America was great. But if you ask me, not much has changed. Those same patrol guards have become, who we know today as, the police. How can we be able to respect authority when they’re killing us? The people who we’re supposed to look to for safety are the same people that are dangerous… Unpredictable… Killers. Yes, killers… That’s exactly what they are. Killers who abuse their power. Killers who are above the law. Killers who are looked upon as outstanding people. Countless Black people have lost their lives at the hands of these killers. Why doesn’t that matter? Why don’t Black lives matter? It’s exhausting to hear about these murders: ​cop shoots an unarmed Black man, says he felt threatened​. Walter Scott’s life mattered. Police barge into the home of a Black woman, shooting at least twenty bullets. Eight of those bullets struck her. Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. Cop kneels on an unarmed Black man’s neck as he repeatedly says he can’t breathe. CAUGHT ON VIDEO. George Floyd’s life mattered.


To the police it doesn’t matter if we’re unarmed or innocent. The color of our skin says it all. The color of our skin has already confessed to the crime. The color of our skin has already put us at odds with authority. We’re sick and tired of Black people’s lives being disposable. We’re sick and tired of the verdict being not guilty. Like Fannie Lou Hamer said, “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We demand justice for all the Black lives that have been taken away from us. We will not be ignored. We will not be silenced. Until justice is rightfully served, peace is not an option.


D EA R WH ITE AMERICA by Queensly Jean-Francois

Skins may differ, but affection dwells in white and Black the same. —William Cowper We are free today because we are stronger. We will be slaves when the government becomes stronger. God, who knows our most secret thoughts and who sees all, is witness to the purity of Bible principles. They are not founded on this violent ferocity that takes pleasure in shedding Black human blood. I will take up arms for the freedom of my color. It is our own, I will defend it or perish.


WE BU ILT TH IS TOWN by Emmanuel Lopez

Black lives matter. We built this town. There’s no reason for us to be shattered, treated like animals. We are stuck in a cage, completely voiceless, and really afraid. You treat us like hell and take us to jail. You say we are guilty. Boy, your mouth is filthy, ‘cause all I was tryna do was get home to safety. Treat your kind like you do to us, bet they would be worse and they will never get enough. Abuse of power is a mistake. If I could, I would grill it and eat it like steak. Black lives matter: that’s what I said. I really wish we could be treated equal and not be afraid of going out and not coming back ‘cause we are dead.



a collection by Breyana Thomas

DEAR WHITE AMERICA We are tired. Tired of being mistreated for the color of our skin. Tired of being targeted for the color of our skin. Tired of being uncomfortable in our skin. This is why we will no longer stand in the shadows. We will no longer allow you to make us feel like outsiders in our own home. We will no longer tolerate your disrespect towards our skin color. We are Black and we are proud. I am Black and I am proud.


YEARS​. We’ve been suffering for years. For being Black. For being a color that is not white. Years. We were enslaved for years by the white man because we are Black. For being a color that is not white. Years. We’ve been targeted by the white man for years because we are Black. For being a color that is not white. For years my people have been treated as a minority. Why? Because we are Black. A color that is not white. We are tired. I am tired. Being Black is not a crime. I am not a criminal. I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am Black. I will forever be Black. I am Black and I am proud. My people are strong and my people will remain strong because we love being Black. Because I love being Black.


JOY Joy is a feeling of happiness. The things that make you smile. The things that you are proud of. The color of my skin brings me joy. Being Black makes me happy. For years I’ve struggled for acceptance. Would I ever fit in? Would they ever like me? Is it because I am not of their color? Then you realize you don’t need approval from anyone to make you happy because the only person you need approval from is yourself. You are the one to make yourself happy, you are the one to accept yourself for who you are, not them. They try to tear you down because you’re Black, but they are weak, because you know your worth and you’ve found your joy and nothing can break you. When you have skin that glows in the sun, you embrace it, because you are beautiful. And the earth believes that too. Being a Black girl is my joy, my greatest joy, because I can stand here today and finally say, “I AM BLACK AND I AM PROUD.”


TO WHOMEVER TH IS C ON CE RNS by Johnny Griffin To Whomever This Concerns: Danez Smith’s poem told me to “say it with your whole Black mouth.” Here goes: I am someone who never settles for less. I am someone who doesn’t care what the others say about him. I am a leader who does not tolerate failure. I am an influencer, role model, mentor, here, standing in my own body. I am unconvinced by the lies other people try to make me believe about myself and the world. And when they realize they can’t fool me like the others, they hate me, call me disobedient, disruptive. They shut me out, making me a loner. How could people who do that be my superiors?


N OT EN OUGH by Epifania Jarquin

These crazy world events, this makes no sense. One day, we’re living, next day, we’re dead. I would say this is something new. Sadly, that ain’t the truth. Police killing our women, men, and youth, it’s true and all over the news. We claim such progress yet, it’s still not enough. Politicians claiming some sort of success, words are lies, just a bluff. Offended when we say Black lives matter, as if it’s some sort of contest. As if their complexion gets them battered, when all we want is some consequence. They act as if the color of our skin means we’ve committed these sins. We don’t want to win, we simply just want to live.


B LE S S ED BE AMERICA by Ricardo Carrasco

Blessed be America, the land of injustice where one can self-hate, along with an oppressor. Where one can be killed, because of their race. Cracker, nigg*r, all languages of an oppressor. But ignorance is bliss, blessed be America.


I’M S CARED by Janiah Hines

I’m scared as I’m going to sleep peacefully an officer walks in with a gun and kills me. And gets away with it. I’m scared to walk into a store, not buy anything and be suspected of stealing something. I’m scared to be pulled over and have a gun pulled out on me for speeding a tiny bit over the speed limit. I’m scared to walk into my school. I’m scared a white kid is going to pull out a gun. I’m scared of white kids shooting up schools. I’m scared of going to a concert and a white man pulling out a gun up in a hotel room and starting shooting all across the board, killing multiple people in seconds. I’m scared of the color of my skin. I’m scared I’ll be in the ground. I’m scared of being a proud Black woman because we ain’t seen as successful, only as the “ugly” baby mamas no one wants. I’m scared that my future child plays alone with a play gun and gets shot. I’m scared my brothers can’t walk to the grocery store without being shot. I’m scared my brothers will be profiled. I’m scared my brothers will be accused of a murder they didn’t commit. I’m scared to fight for my country,


only for my country to be against me. I’m scared to breathe the soil of America. I’m scared to get the wheels in motion of change. I’m scared to march so I sign. I’m scared I won’t come home and get stuck on the Manhattan Bridge. I’m scared that Black people are seen as thugs. I’m scared that Black people are seen as animals. I’m scared of the riots and how they’re seen as wrong. I’m scared America won’t see the truth. I’m scared they won’t see police brutality. I’m scared for any mother’s child who doesn’t come home. I’m scared for any mother’s child who is taken away from them for good. I’m scared of American oxygen. I’m scared of the Police who have wronged their department and themselves. I’m scared of the police that don’t speak up. But I’m proud. I’m proud to be a Black woman. I’m proud to support the BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT. I’m proud to be alive to fight. I’m proud to be educated. I’m proud to have a Black mother. I’m proud to have a Black educated mother who tells me when I need to do the right thing. I’m proud to have melanin. I’m proud to have type 4 hair. I’m proud to have lived through this day and age, so I can join the movement. I’M PROUD TO BE BLACK.


A P LAC E CALLED A M E RICA by Kayla Cooper

America, what a place to live in. Large in size, America inspires people’s big dreams. Beautiful streets with elegant buildings, yeah, that’s what people who visit might say. But being an American, especially a Black American, you see things very differently. And the main challenge we all face today is racism. People die everyday because of their skin tone. They say we should be proud to be Black, but our lives are being taken because of it. Walking around in fear of my life everyday, fear of the younger generation growing up to witness this, frings tears to my eyes. Being teased in school because you’re darker hurts my ears. All the rest takes a toll on your heart, but the thing that makes me feel safe in this place we call America, is that I have big dreams I will achieve. America will see. I only hope that the government listens to what we Black people have to say, because, despite the color of our skin, we are still American.


WHY ? / WE NEED by Kerisa Phillips

Dear America, Why is this happening? Why is everyone so divided? Why does the color of our skin matter? Why can’t we come together as one? Why aren’t we united? Why is there white privilege? Why can’t we all be equal? Why? We We We We We We We We

need need need need need need need need

equality. unity. a better president. no more violence. the police to protect us, not hurt us. to be better. to love each other. change.


I AM B LACK by Jahanni Barrett

I am me… I am BLACK. I know I am BLACK, and I am PROUD to be this way. Other people walk around and see us and the first thing that comes to their mind is criminal, dumb, a nogood person. That shouldn’t be in the world taking up space. These are some things that some people will say and think to themselves about colored people. People are so quick to judge and accuse because of the color of our skins. Instead of doing research on the past, they go and ask people that are the same color as them so they can both talk smack. And that’s not right… So quick to judge people from appearance, but yet, not taking the time or having the guts to walk up to a person of color and talk to them, to actually get to know us and to know our lives. All I know, is that if an opposite color was to be in any Black person or person of color’s shoes, he or she would realize that it’s not easy being a person of color, being scared for our lives everyday and being treated differently than other people. And if they people do know what it’s like to be us, there’s people who would just let it be, because they think we’re able to handle this abuse.


I’m not complaining, and I’m not saying that I don’t wanna be Black, because I love the color I am, because this is the color that stands out to other people. But what I am saying is that I want to see a CHANGE. NOW, or in the FUTURE. Because I don’t want to have to let my future son or daughter live in the type of society we live in, where the cops supposed to be protecting and helping us, are hurting and killing us, decreasing the Black population.


D EA R A MERICA by Kay Obasa

The home of the free but only for the ones who founded it. Dear America, why must we fight but not unite. Blood driven by the thirst of war and violence. Why should we have to pay the price? We didn’t ask to be conquered and used for your entertainment. Dear America, why can’t we be one and make history for the future to be proud of?


DA RK VS. LIGH T by Jonathan Louis

Growing up, I was taught that black is darkness and white is light. But no one ever experienced what it is like to be in the dark, what it’s like to be thrown into the darkness because of your skin. How it feels to not be treated right… So, how could the light know? The same light that was afraid of the dark is now trying to “help” the dark. But nobody was trying to help when we were enslaved like animals trapped in a zoo or like a failed lab experiment trapped in a vault. Where was the help then?



What a time to be alive, where social divide is claimed to be gone, but in reality it has still survived. Though it may not anymore be as contagious as a yawn. The mask of this problem can be the loudest, behind the sounds of sirens, behind the sounds of the proudest, but it totally doesn’t have us environs. It’s used to dress people in guilt. Guess it puts them in their place. Used to portray people in filth, whether, or not, you say it to their face. Many people have come to preach of peace and clearly that’s gone through everyone’s head. They try and prevent it by bringing it back and putting them in deep heat, but that will clearly work when you’re dealing with an inbred. Suffering for a crime forged from imagination, backed up by coincidental aspects of crime, but, even if between these two fronts, there is a clear relation, obviously go back to what you’re using to elevate you in the divide. Evolved into the top of the food chain, this is still a game of hunter and hunted between us, causing misery and pain. But on the bright side, the tops are having fun. How many times have we died on a whim? From the justification of it, or from a whim itself? Maybe all that can save us is the sound of the hymn, or maybe we’re saved by the actions of thyself.


D EA R A MERICA by Samyya Vandenberg

Poor, poor America, look at what has become of you. You were supposed to be the land of the free, but all around you, people plea. Plea for protection, for justice, plea for equality. But now that I really think about it, that is not who your creators wanted you to be. But how can we change that? How can we be the future without recreating history? All these lands built by people of color, all of them taken from prosperity to fulfill the needs and wants of the greedy white man. We don’t have to live in fear. We shouldn’t live in fear. Race shouldn’t justify fear. By all means we must stand together, but I guess that conversation is too tough to bear. This is a problem way beyond fear, a problem way beyond systemic racism. It is a cycle. We fill our children’s minds with our beliefs then they grow up only knowing fear, only knowing hate, only knowing all police are bad, only knowing all colored people are criminals, only knowing all white people are racists, only knowing all Muslims are terrorists, only knowing all Asians carry viruses, only knowing all immigrants are illegal, only knowing what they are taught. Dear America, we must stand together and become one.



by Diana Moreno They say it’s the land of the free, but what is free? The racism is free, the violence is free, the hate is free, the oppression is free. What did we do? Aren’t we humans too? We’re not who they say we are, we are more than that. But they’re too blind to see that. They’re so focused on themselves, that the rest of the world is meaningless to them. They only speak up when they’re not the protagonist. According to them, we are thugs, we are dangerous, dropouts, uneducated people, we are the worst. What are we really doing though? Why are we going against one another? As minorities, we need to stick together instead of calling out our differences. That’s exactly what they want. For us to be against each other and hate one another. But if we destroy and divide each other, won’t we be like them too? We’ll be as ignorant as they are. Is that what we want?


What the heck does the U.S. even stand for anymore? They call it the “United States” but it’s more divided than ever. This country feels like a cage and we’re all waiting to break free. Before, they used to say that it’s a man’s world but on top of that it has become a racist’s world, a hater’s world, an ignorant world, a fake world. What happened to unity? Back then they used to fight for unity but now they fight for hate. They don’t want to keep the unity, they want to keep the hate. The people who were supposed to protect us are the ones who want to kill us. And why is that? Why do they want to kill us? It’s crazy. What if it was them on the other side? How would they feel then? But of course they don’t think about living life in our shoes, because that sort of thinking doesn’t benefit them.


D EA R A MERICA by Emmanuel Lopez

Killing won’t prevail. We won’t go to jail. It shouldn’t matter if we are Black or white because we all have rights. Instead, we all have fright because those who are supposed to protect us are abusing their power and are killing us day and night. If this doesn’t stop, then we all gonna fight. And if I demolish you, the government gonna be tight. That’s violating my rights and I ain’t gonna let them be the death of me tonight. Why if a white person does crime, ya just take ya time. You never even think to take ‘em down like you did Floyd and other Black men all the time. My patience has fallen. I don’t care if we brawling, I’m a Black man. Why you always thinking that I’m uncommon: and right now I’ll never soften ‘cause ya government is rotten ‘cause Black peoples’ lives are the ones always forgotten.


C U LTU RE TH IEF by Diana Moreno

In the midst of the storm, you can find peace. You can keep your mind at ease. Look out the window and tell me what you see. Is it beautiful? It sure can be useful. It can be hard to see beauty while in pain. But wow! Can you see the rain? The timing isn’t right but can’t you see the light? It’s sometimes hard to breathe and you feel incomplete. But don’t you worry, there’s no hurry. It can feel kinda scary but no need to worry. Please keep on fighting, and keep uniting. It’s called the “Land of the Free.” But it makes you want to leave, it makes me wanna scream. They say there’s something wrong with us, but they never wanna discuss. Their answer to everything is killing but all we want is healing. They don’t care how we feeling, but we’ll go up to the ceiling and we’ll show them real meaning. Last time I checked, you owe me respect, the same that I gave you. I never deserved you. You disgust me. Stop calling me names. I know you don’t care but let’s be fair, you’re always against me


talking ‘bout how I stole your tradition. But look how you’re living: We “stole” your jobs but you’re stealing our ALL, Separating our families. ¡Que descarados! You claim to be good, but I can see the evil in your eyes. No need to disguise. You created a system for me to fail and to end up in jail. But I might end up at Yale and I’ll leave my trail so you can copy me again. And I’ll show you what strength is. All the good things were made for you, but you’ll only get a scoop. You make me think that you’re on my side, but you just want me to die. Oh sorry, that might be too harsh, I forgot your sensitivity: But I’m showing you my expressivity. I am human too, and I will never lose. No, not like you. What is your obsession with us? You always want it all, you selfish brat that loves to brag. We are thieves to you but who was the one that went around the world thinking everything is yours? Shame on you. You wanna “fix” all problems but first, you must fix yourself and take off your veil. We all know you ain’t no saint, just let us be ourselves.



Dear White AmeriKKKa, why must you be like this? Why do we have to get beat down when we raise our fists? Why, when we try to express ourselves, do we get dismissed? Dear White AmeriKKKa, are you scared of what we can do? Does our freedom of speech scare you? So that’s why you want to unleash your KKK crew? Oh, so I see why y’all mad! Y’all wanna bring us down, but at the same time, wanna be Black so bad? I don’t get y’all, I thought this was supposed to be the land of the free? But when we cry “I can’t breathe!!” we must bleed. I don’t understand, I thought the police were supposed to protect us? Not put their knees to our necks and let our vein buss. Does our pain bring you joy? Oh, so we must be some sort of toy. But when we start to come alive, you tell your officers to deploy. Look, now I ain’t my ancestors, I will fight back. I will tell y’all, “Catch me outside, how ‘bout that?” And y’all can call me a maniac, I don’t care. I will fight for our equality because I am Black.


FACING MYSELF by Bethany Augustin

Who am I? I’m just an African American girl just trying to stay alive and make peace for my people trying to avoid the feeling of having a fear that could be me on the floor exclaiming my last breath of life. As Danez Smith wrote, “They murder us for the crime of their imaginations.” They torture us African Americans with stereotypes that, because we’re Black, we will always be considered the threat even when we’re not. So they use their white privilege as an advantage in order to target us every chance they get. Cause I guess that’s what they live for: killing.


WHO A M I? by Amaya Paton

“Who am I?” is a question I ask myself every day. Who am I? Who am I allowed to be in the world I live in? In America, can I be Black and innocent? Or am I always barbaric and guilty? As a minority, can I be successful in America? Or do I have to live under the standards people have made for me? “Negroes “Negroes “Negroes “Negroes

can’t can’t can’t can’t

be millionaires, they steal all their money.” be doctors, they aren’t smart enough.” own businesses, who wants what Black people have?” be successful, they’re criminals.”

The lies that people want me to believe about myself are social constructs that I just won’t follow. My life is a movie and, amongst others, I will be Black and successful. America may not accept who I am, but I do. I would say that facing America is one of the hardest things I have to do in my life. But I would also say it’s one of my greatest achievements. Systemic racism in America is something minorities have to face every day. Having the strength to keep being successful


and living your life in America is an achievement to me. People telling me that I can’t do something because of the color of my skin makes it even more satisfying when I prove them wrong. “Who am I?” is a question I ask myself every day. Who will America allow me to be? In America, I’ll be whoever I want to be. I’ll be successful, intelligent and happy… All while being Black. So again I ask myself, “Who am I?” Well, I’m Black, and I’m proud!



They say it’s land of the “free,” yet it’s run by the white tee still. This is America, where you best then flee for having a black tee, still. This is America, where bullets chase you down like you playing tag if you not white. But this our America though, and so we can’t be going down without a fight! Now Mississippi going crazy, got the world going crazy, even the lazy screamin’ “Black lives matter!” Yet no attention was given ‘cause it didn’t matter. Then that’s when everything began to shatter, for the attention, yeah, it began to shatter. Loot this, break that, and still it didn’t matter. So they blast the whole precinct on fire. All in the hope of Chauvin’s murder degree going higher, and still it didn’t matter. So now we got different races, marching among different faces, against different police murder cases, all marching in different places. Now us standing together, on the scale we’ve finally risen! And from the third degree to the second, our scale went up, but for racist eyes


from three to two, it goes down. “It goes down!?” Down to the ground!! With not two cops, but three cops, holdin’ George Floyd down?!!? Then hold him down for three minutes straight, and George is screamin’ “I CAN’T BREATHE!” So they hold him down for an extra two?!!? But this ain’t nothing new, they handle Black lives like they handled Harambe, who’s straight outta the zoo! It’s only “one bad” cop they say. But why is America still attackin’ innocent lives in the Middle East still today? Wasn’t it one bad “terrorist mistake”?! Now you asked what I enjoy. I enjoy America finally waking and standing up to this land of the fake.


T HE L OVE OF A RABBIT by Jada Sylvester

Mr. Wolf, your love is so sincere and real. Total bliss is what you make me feel, but without pain, love wouldn’t be true. You’re scared to love me, aren’t you? You’re labeled as big, bad, and hairy. Cruel, and menacingly scary. The terrified stares you get as you walk past. But Mr. Wolf, you make my heart beat so fast. You’re scared you’ll become what they claim you are, but with me, our love will make us go far. Although you’re hurt and broken emotionally, just know my arms are forever welcoming you openly. You’re scared you’ll hurt me just like they say, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Tame your fur and dull your claws, be who you are and hold my paws. Our love is ours and only ours to figure out on our own. As long as you’re with me and I’m with you, you’ll never be alone. It’ll take time and trust for me loving you to become a habit, but Mr. Wolf, let me heal you and show you the love of a good rabbit.



by Jaden Brumell Don’t become someone you’re not. Life is all about becoming someone and finding what you like. If you want to be a nurse, go for it. If you want to be an NBA player, go on ahead. If you want to be a technician, race for it. Whatever you dream to become, always say to yourself that you can do it.


D EA R B ABY BOY by Nevaeh Cassidy

You are not born yet, but I still fear for you. You cannot sense what going on in the world, but I still fear for you. With my skin color, or your father’s, you will always be a Black child. I will teach you that this is a blessing for you, teach you about your ancestors, the pain they went through: slavery, segregation, police brutality, racism, and the list goes on. I fear for you. I will teach you the things they did: built the country that you will be born in. Teach you how to handle kids that make fun of your always beautiful skin. And sadly teach you what to do if you get stopped by a cop, and hope that what happened to me doesn’t happen to you. You always will be my baby boy, no matter how old you get. I would hate it if I had to lose you faster than I gave birth to you, to learn that you had the same fate as Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean, and Jonaylah. It will kill me if I lost the joy that cured me of the hurt I have been through. I hope that I can find a place to set you in, so you can be safe. But I know I still fear for you.


So dear baby boy, you are mine and mine forever and I fear for you. But I will always love you, no matter what. I’ll do anything and everything for you. But I’ll always fear for you. Love your light skin, but Black, and I am a damn sure proud mama.


I WA S CONFLICTED by Michael Pierre

How can one truly feel love? When does this chemical activate? Is it the impregnable feeling of lust for one person? Or is it feeling safe with another person? I am still conflicted about love. Going from person to person, unhappy and lustful, fake and untrustful. All terms to describe one person. Me. I thought if I had someone I could call mine, I would eventually fall in love with that person. Turns out, I wasn’t ready. Maybe I will never be. I’ve gotten hurt a few times. I probably deserved it. Now I’m old enough to realize that it wasn’t love I was feeling. It was puberty.


F IN AL LY H APPY by Jonathan Louis

Joy is something you earn, something you can’t really buy. I like hanging out with this girl because we’re like a duo. Like Batman and Robin or ​Bonnie and Clyde, something like that. Eating and spending time with laughter soft as tears, enjoying every moment brings joy. Grateful for moments like that. Bringing joy to light is like bringing in gifts for your mom and seeing her smile.



Oh sleep, you give me joy you bring me peace nothing feels better than when I’m asleep. When I lay down, I close my eyes think about life and feel like ice. Yes I get cold, yes I get hot but sleep is just something that makes me weep. Weep, weep you sound like a sheep. Or maybe, just maybe I’ll count sheep until I fall asleep.


T HE TR UTH BEHIND T HE L IES by Bethany Augustin

The world shouldn’t deprive you from your happiness when it’s been given within. Joy comes to those who believe in the sudden change of defeat. They say everyone deserves to be happy, so why do some of us wait ‘til we can’t anymore look upon the sky to seek help? Knowing we shall not receive any? But soon enough love appears, and your mindset switches to a whole new domain, where, no matter what, you’ll always be happy ‘cause that’s what God’s intentions were for you. Happiness doesn’t appear quick as imagined but when you experience happiness it’s something so breathtaking that you’ll want it forever but don’t take advantage of joy cause happiness only lasts for a small amount of time before it’s blown out like an explosion.


Your happiness, every ounce of it, getting lost each second, between your eyes and just like that, your happiness expires like it was never good to begin with. But you expected this, so you move on with your life like you just woke up from the worst dream. But it was really your life, so you move on, knowing that happiness only comes to those who least expect it.



The laughter of revenge. That laugh you give out when your mind goes to the dark place, this laugh only shows up in your head but sometimes slips out, making you look... Well, a little crazy. The laughter of happiness. This one is a joy, but may look like a pain so simple, yet so complex. When all is going wrong, until something goes right, this laughter just comes running along. The laughter of regret. This one is scruffy. Just take a look at it, listen this laughter is just a cry for help. The laughter of disappointment. This is the blanket of laughter, the one you use to cover up. This laughter is not even alive, so let’s just move on. The laughter of fakery. With so many layers with so many faces, everyone uses this one. As bad it might sound, this one is here for good intentions. For those non-funny jokes no one laughs at, this one takes a leap in to help out a friend. For that thing that is funny, but not enough to make someone say “lmao.” This is the laugh that just says “lol.” The laughters with many meanings.



by Breanna Lessey Met this girl in first grade. Half the class didn’t like her, but I did. She was special in her own way. People wanted her to go away, but she stayed. Everybody called her the teacher’s pet. That name made her upset, but she still kept her head up. At lunch, I walked up to her saying, “Wassup?” She was glad I sat with her because she was by herself. We both introduced ourselves. From that day on, we’ve been good friends. If somebody bullied her, I had her back. If someone bullied me, she had my back. We’ve gotten so close, we got to have a sleepover. During that sleepover, we’ve gotten even closer. We had each other’s back throughout our life. She’s my best friend. She’s Tamra.


WHAT IT IS by Ian Simpson

Love needs meaning, life is love. For there to be love, you need to know what you want. So what is it you want? Family, friends, yourself. I put that love in a box, ‘cause weakness, understanding the difference between love and no love, is what makes us heartless monsters. Pain can change you and kill you, love is a way of fighting death. But what if we welcomed death, and fought love?


WHO D O I LOVE? by Samere Staye-Telemaque

I love everyone who has a good heart, I love people who love me for me, I love people with good mindsets. I love my family, I love my friends, I love my pet. But more importantly, I love myself. For there could be no way I could love anyone without a little bit of self love. Always remember that. Let’s continue loving each other.


S TOIC AFFECTION by Bethany Augustin

Being able to wake up in the morning knowing you have people that care about you makes you feel loved. But what is it about love that is so abstract? You see love and you think it’s impossible, but truly you make it that way. Being able to love is such a great feeling, but not knowing how to is the worst feeling ever. Stop trying to find love for the wrong reasons ‘cause if that’s the case then you have no idea how to love or be in love. Love may be frightening at times but we’ve risked a lot before, why should love be any different? Love is so pure, but don’t pile it up with nostalgia ‘cause it may get in the way of your true feelings. Love is so beautiful that it makes you feel pain at times, but if you can’t feel hurt or have any emotion, how can you actually love and give affection? Don’t love ‘cause you feel like you have to and it’s mandatory. Love because you know it’s meaningful and has a bright end. ‘Cause love is so amazing don’t abuse it, but value it while you can.



by Nicholas Samuel You can overcome anything you put your mind to, as long as you do it the right way. Your limitation is only your imagination. Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile. And make sure your smile lasts for a while.


A NG EL S by Alexia Foster

Love is a feeling inside that brings you joy and pleasure, something or someone who brightens your days, even when you feel like you’re in hell, they lift you up to heaven, act like an angel to bring you to your happy place. For me, I have a lot of angels. I have my mom, she encourages me to do anything I want, accepts me for who I am, pushes me, and is always there for me even though we are miles apart. She is the one person I can turn to and count on no matter the situation. She takes her time and talks to me, to ensure that I get what she’s trying to teach me. She taught me to be independent, curious, outgoing, outspoken, but I’m working on not sounding disrespectful. My uncle does the same, he makes sure he tells me the truth and teaches me about the reality and harshness of life, especially in America. My grandma, she’s overprotective, but I understand where she is coming from. But I’m not going to fly on my own if she’s always holding up my wings. My friends are so fun and supportive and I know if I ever have a problem, I can go to them and they will be there for me.


I can count on them to make me laugh when I’m sad, and calm me down when I’m angry. I like boys, but it would all be irrelevant to get a boyfriend because I’m not allowed. When I’m alone and sad, I turn to my music, and YouTube videos, and my collection of puppy and dog videos to cheer me up. Everyone and everything in my life cheers me up at one point, or they are the reasons I’m sad.



by Ian Simpson

Jokes cause laughing and pain causes hurt, for every cause there is an effect. Pride can cause the difference in a man, myself is pride alone. There is no beauty in living without a purpose, and waking up to sleep later, to not focus on the importance in life. I get pleasure in planning, the only we humans can control. I’m grateful for everything, and everything is grateful. I’m always alone and that’s what makes me, as a person, strong. Pain comes from others, no room for regret.


T R U E LOVE by Julesha Uter

When you love someone, and I mean Truly love someone, that’s a feeling that will never go away. Some people ask the question, “do you still love her?” Or, “do you still love him?” And if you really loved the person like you say you did, I think your answer should still be yes. You may have less love for the person if you’re not together anymore, but, to me, you will always have a piece of them in your heart, tucked away in some corner, no matter how much you might want it to go away. Tupac was talking about his mom and it got me thinking about how much moms are underappreciated. I tell my mom I love her everyday and give her a hug and a kiss because you never know what could happen. I’d lose myself if I lost that woman. She is kind, and loving, and makes sure I get stuff done. I’m an independent person, but I wouldn’t have half the stuff I have if it wasn’t for her. She’s put my needs above her own countless times. Technically, parents are just supposed to feed you, clothe you, and give you shelter, but we all know our moms/parents do way more than that. I appreciate her for that.


FACING MYSELF by Kimberly Romero

I read protest poems with all clarity. Then I think to myself, how weak I am, these people are fighting against the world and my problems look so minor against them all. I was born without a problem. I was able to speak, was able to walk, the color of my skin did not matter to me. I was raised with a single mother and four of us kids. I was protected from the past, was encouraged to find a future. I didn’t think finding myself would hurt, so I tried it out, but little did I know, this task of finding myself makes me want to shut down. I try so hard not to look at my past. I tell myself the past will never come back. But in order face myself, I have to face my past. I have to try to relive every memory, every detail. I have to find out what I left behind. This is not to gain pity, this is not for you to comment upon. I just wanted to say, I think I found myself.


That little girl, who was trapped in the past, all the memories she left behind in order to protect herself, she blocked everything and everyone out. I want to face myself but, oh dear, this is hard. It’s not that easy. It doesn’t sound so hard, but stepping into this magical wall this little girl built and talking to this little girl, I think I truly found myself. Even though I’m not facing the whole world, this little girl who’s stuck behind this wall is as heavy as the world. I finally found myself. My new task is to release that little girl trapped behind that brick wall.


MIRR OR, MIRROR by Samyya Vandenburg

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall who am beneath it all? I came here to say what I can’t say, I came here to make up for the lost days. I am afraid of the dark. The darkness of my fears, the fears of allowing myself to feel emotion, the fear of appearing sad or weak, the fear of feeling pain, even the fear of heartbreak. I came here to get rid of the strain. Gaining relief is my only aim. Life is a crazy game and quite difficult to explain. Your days will either be bad or good, but always remember: never dwell on the past. Be true to yourself, no matter what anyone says. Take a deep breath and relax your mind. Plan your steps correctly and everything will be fine, there’s no sequel, so you might as well try to be more peaceful. Life is a crazy game, take control and enjoy it while it lasts.



by Samyya Vandenburg I hope that my pessimistic views will allow me to be loved one day. I don’t know what genuine love feels like. Lots of people leave, and not many stay, and it has always been this way. Deceived too many times to believe what anyone has to say, love will hurt you each and every way. For what it’s worth, I’d like to spare the pain. Because it seems everyone is the same. Time and time, I try again, nothing changes, nothing attained, so it is locked in my brain. Love has no place on this train, but I want to be special for someone, so that I never feel alone. Holding each other tight until the end of time, although the thought of someone wanders my mind day and night. I can’t bring myself to see that this decision may be right.



by Hervens Camille

I don’t even know what the fuck is love, but I know how it feel like to love someone. Based on my experience, I believe that once you in love, there’s tough times you’ll go through and also I imagine if I could have a power, my power would be reading minds. I ain’t weird. We all different. I got different meanings. One meaning is that I hate pretenders. Example: imagine you read your sister’s mind, your own blood sister, and found out she hates you, she don’t even want you to exist? Or your wife, you married for ten years, she didn’t really like you? She was acting the whole time? Imagine how that shit would hurt you. That’s the bad part. Good part is just the opposite. You got the power. You just found out everything


at the beginning. Love, my love is totally different. Wondering why I’m still single ‘cause I don’t put myself out there, and keep hurting myself and stress out and go crazy. And I feel like every time I put myself out there, I get colder and colder and that’s fucked up. ‘Cause the person that really down for me, to her I’m heartless. Heartless as March 22, 2020, that’s when the world stopped, shut down. The year didn’t even get a chance to start. I had plans. Goals. “Everything happen for a reason,” but I don’t even know.



by Breyana Thomas

They say that when you meet the love of your life, time stops. The moments turn into memories you’ll never forget. Passion consumes you, and you never want to let them go. You start questioning reality, is it real? How can one feel this way about a person? The mixture of happiness and sadness, the person who makes your heart skip a beat when they come around. Love is blind, love is rare, but the love I have for you will always be there. And when it all comes down to choose, it will always be you. Because you make me feel alive, even when I want to die. I love you.


S ICK AND TIRED by Angelique Mann

Sick of crying, tired of trying. Yes, I’m smiling but inside I’m dying. Sometimes just a smile on our face can help to make this world a better place.





A BAT T LE FOR T HE C ENTURY by Oswald Clarke

Hate is a big word. I’ve yet to learn the true meaning. I’ve thought about, and talked about, just wondering why you’re leaving. I lie and lie, it’s hard to know who he was. It doesn’t feel right, it’s not me staring at the mirror everyday just ignoring the truth. What is the truth? I don’t know. Could it be depression, or just imagination? It feels like hell in heaven. Sometimes you’re happy, and sometimes you’re dead. You know, death doesn’t sound so bad right now but I still look forward to holding my first child, graduating, watching my mom cry tears of joy as I walk down that pathway, to hold the one who I will spend the rest of my life with. But then that new person who has been birthed, within my tears takes over, making all of that shatter—a mere dream. Deep down, I keep fighting this. This thing that is not me. I will fight, I haven’t lost yet. And I’m still me. This will be a battle for the century.


T HE S HOW MUST GO ON by Maria Barrera

This is what I’ve yearned for. I shall raise my voice as a signal of my departure. I shall throw the petals of my bloomed rose, devoted to my ambitions. Take the less traveled path, and go forth, putting my life on the line, I will go onwards. Tonight, I will tell a story once again. What kind of scenario is waiting for me? Raise the curtain, so the show may begin, is this what you dreamed of? Oh my, what is it that my eyes see, is this what I was hoping for? It must be a dream. I’ve been searching with all my might for a place to belong, and I have finally found it. The show must go on, I shall bloom as well, this is my scenario, the one that I call the Beginning.


THE L OUPE by Maria Barrera

Under me it lies, a tiny piece of glass. Who would say it has a vigorous power, that I can see what is behind your mask? What have we here? Allow me to offer you my verse, a montage of words, directionless emotion, yet, what I search for is none of this at all! Through the lens of this loupe, I cannot see what lies within your heart. I cannot see the place where your heart lies. What could this be? Hidden to my eyes, your heart is the only thing I cannot see. Hidden to my eyes, you are hidden from my eyes. What should I do? Who should I ask? I knew there was something greater than your mask.


C AR RY ON by Maria Barrera

Striking down the shadows, I’m seeking out a faraway dream, underneath the azure sky, tracing all my thoughts as one, to light up the sky with my symphony and sing my chorus alone. You will hear, as my heart bursts open, I will make a tempest, loud and clear, a furious tempest, to sense my passion. I will carry on, I will not give up, I will bring more intensity. The stars will fall through the air. My tempest will make you fall. You will see my wintry eyes, and my story will begin.



by Nicholas Samuel

I just want to say: stay strong. 2020 has been going on for so long, we all never knew that this double-digit year could go so wrong. Viruses, racism, and protests, it all has happened before, but not one after the other. It’s like everything is the opposite of the best. Quarantine, being stuck with people you love and hate, it’s like Grandma’s food on a plate. You eat the ones you like, and throw out the rest. It’s like everything is the opposite of the best. Don’t worry, the year is not over. Even though it feels like it has been going on for so long. We just hope the summer can be happy, and not sting like a bumble bee, and we can finally take a rest, and say life, finally, is the best.


A N U NBREAKABLE LOVE by Kerisa Phillips

The love that we have is limitless. It’s something that I didn’t expect to have in a long time. For years, this love has held me, comforted me, and hurt me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Our bond is unbreakable. You’re my best friend, my lover, and my headache all in one. We have a connection we don’t have with anyone, a connection we will never have with anyone else. We shared many moments together that made me fall so much in love with everything about you. The way you smile, the way you laugh, and looking into your beautiful eyes make me full of joy. Everytime I’m around you, I’m the happiest person in the world. You make me feel this way even when I’m having a bad day, when I want to isolate myself from everyone or curl up into a ball and cry, you’re always there. The love we share is so special. Our intimacy is the best feeling in the world. Being with you is something I enjoy more than you know. It feels like we’re the only two people in the world. You love me and take care of me on my worst days, when I’m mean, selfish, and rude. When I don’t deserve it, you still treat me like I’m a queen, you kiss me, hold me, and make me laugh. I appreciate everything. I appreciate the love you give me. You’re the reason I know what true love is. Some people may not understand what we have, but I don’t care because our love is unbreakable.


L OVE J UST HURTS by Kayla Cooper

What is love? No one really knows. Sometimes you think you’re in love when you get that feeling of butterflies in your tummy. And you feel like they’re the one, making you feel special, then the next minute you don’t. Or it’s because they broke you, ripped your heart out and walked all over it, which makes you want to trust no one. This is the birth of a ruthless person. Love makes you blind, makes you do stuff you never did before, like sneaking out late, vandalizing walls just to fit in. It makes you make wrong choices that might affect you later on in life. To me, all love makes you do is regret. It takes away all the fun you should be having, because you’re at home dealing with heartbreak. Love is no fun, all it does is hurt, and the pain just stays there, changing moods from happiness to gloominess in an instant. I keep hearing love is in the air. Well, I’m gonna hold my breath.


I ’M S TILL WAITING FOR YOU by Tramayne Baxton

Love is just a game. You win or you lose. When you lose, you hurt. I never win. What is it like to win? Do you become happy? Do you get a prize? Just what is it like to win? Will the world become better for you if you win? I’m still waiting for someone. Someone to make feel what it’s like to win at love and end this losing streak.


F IR S T LOVE by Nevaeh Cassidy

Dear first love, we been together for a year and a half. We met in high school, You weren’t always sweet to me, you actually used to bully me, but the things you used to bully me for, you love now. You love my flaws and my insecurities more than I do, and I love that about you. From the time we started to date, you started to make me love myself more. You helped me love myself and get through my depression. Yes, we fought. Yes, we had our ups and downs. But we overcame that, and we still love each other to this day. You mean everything to me, and I am so proud of you. You came a long way. We both have. I wouldn’t want to have shared my highschool life with anyone but you. You are my best friend and hopefully my soulmate, if that is even a thing. You make me happy. You also have given me a blessing that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you, best friend, for everything.



by Diana Moreno

With your sweet smile, I could hold on for a while. Thinking about you brings so many memories. I can see the joy on your face. There’s no mistake, there’s no beauty like yours. It’s just so pure. Your laugh fills up the room like no one ever could. I could see the love in your eyes, so alive. Hearing your voice made my day. I love how you paused your life just to talk to me. It made me so happy. You loved so hard. You always caught me off guard. But why did you have to go? You left me all alone, but I’ll never let go. Just letting you know, the way you used to hold me, it made me feel so safe. You were my escape. I’ll never love anyone like you. You took a piece of me with you, but you left a piece of you too. I will always love you. You’re my muse that I never wanna lose.


G RAT EFUL FOR YOU by Nevaeh Cassidy

I was late, then it didn’t come at all. Another month came and I was late. I started to feel nauseous. I didn’t really want to be, but there was no other explanation. I took the test, it came back positive. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I cried. A couple months later, I heard your heartbeat and I saw you. I wanted to cry again, But this time happy tears. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like magic to me. You made me happy. I had no support and I was really going through it. I started to feel hopeless one night and I just thought that I couldn’t do it no more. But then you kicked And it felt like a sign. Like you was talking to me, telling me, “Mommy don’t worry I’m here.” You wouldn’t understand the happiness I felt right there, in that moment.


You are my joy, my baby boy. You are the reason I live. You are the reason I want to be my own boss in life. To give you everything and anything you want. You are me. And I am you. Even after I die, baby boy, I will always love you. I am grateful for you and I wanna say thank you.



Deep inside there is a girl, of that I’m sure. But above the surface lies a boy who’s tough and cold. She covers pain with a smile, to avoid questions all the time. Pushing people away is all she knows and abides by. No one to open her mind to in this world of snakes, which is all very sad by the way. Her earphones: the most loyal thing to her. She’s followed by music everyday. Her life has been like a plant growing without water, difficult I might say. Being judged by the way she dresses is her lifelong torment. She’s different, can’t you see? Instead of makeup she prefers trees. Instead of fancy dolls, give her cars. Instead of girls, give her boys. Getting all dirty with messy hair is her highest joy. Under all the toughness lies sensitivity and a heart. But to avoid the ghost of her past, she covers it up in the dark. “Trust no one” is her motto. The pain she feels you’ll never know. Tricking the world with smiles should be her job, you know. But deep inside there’s a girl, of that I’m sure.



by Tramayne Baxton

Love. What does it mean? It’s the feeling. The moments, the passion, the soul. Love is when the heart screams, after he lets you go. When you’re connected, no matter how far they go. The universe ceases to exist, and it’s just you and him. Bonding within. And when the night falls, you fall harder, because even in the dark, the love becomes stronger.


U NF OR GETTABLE by Maria Barrera

If you ask me where I come from, I have to start talking with broken memories, with thoughts that are unclear, with trees quite rotten and with my desperate heart. If you ask me where I lived, I have to say, “between blossoms and serpents.” I have to talk about the lights of the poles that illuminated the darkness, and the crowing of the rooster every morning. If you ask me who I knew, I have to remember everything I’ve done, everything I’ve lost, the nights where I wept, and the days where I smiled. They are not objects, nor places, but they are faces with tears, shots to the heart, and screams to heaven. Let’s not go deeper than those eyes, because I don’t know what to say. There are so many dead flowers, and so many melancholy chants, and so many hands holding me back, and so many things I would like to forget.


L OVE S HATTERED by Sulaiman Alyamani

My attention, I gave it to you, yet all these times watching you, it’s hard to believe that I couldn’t save you. My affection. I showed that, showed an affection as big as a building, but yet you the one that wasn’t building with me, which caused us to fall flat. But I loved you, so for you, I started all over, and started building up again my part of the section. But yet you the one that still wasn’t paying attention. You started building up in a total different part of the section, all faced up in a different direction. A direction faced behind my back, huge building I’m carrying by myself. Bitch, you broke my back. But I had an obsession, and you knew that, so why the fuck would you tell me your obvious confession? And now you’re dead, it was all a blur, I remember you telling me that you cheated, and in moment I became very heated, I wasn’t thinking straight, I grabbed the nearest glass heart and into your heart it was shattered.


S O M E T IMES, I BE WO ND ERING by Hervens Camille

Sometimes, I be wondering why I was born. Sometimes, I be wondering why young kids are born and die two days later. Sometimes I wanna know what’s after death. Sometimes, I want to see what’s on the other side. No suicide shit, why do we even exist? Since I was born, all I see are people trying hard, working twice, starving, suffering, struggling to have a better life, better health, and it’s still not enough. I be wondering if God sees what’s going on. I be wondering why some people go through certain shit. Sometimes I be thinking, like, is there really God? Is God real? And if he is, why would he make a fucked up world very complicated? If we family, why some of us gotta play the others? Try to make themself look better? Trying to trust someone and they broke you, make you feel empty, like you nothing. I know some of us grew up different, got different stories. For some of us, like me, it’s really hard for us to trust or love someone ‘cause we scared they going to do us dirty or play us, betray us. Death, sometimes, I be wondering, after we die, where we going to chill or


be at? Is there heaven or hell? Or are we going to be reborn, keep doing the same thing over and over again? Everybody got different beliefs, make their own opinion, their own religion sometimes I be asking God, why it gotta be like that? How am I supposed to believe if everyone got different religions? And I be wondering, do you hear my prayers? Or sometimes do you be busy, like us? I be wondering how you look. Are you Black, white, yellow, green? Why, some of us, our skin color is different? Now we gotta argue, fight, kill each other ‘cause our skin is different? You make the water we drink turn to tears and turn to piss. Sometimes I be wondering, what it would feel like if I wasn’t here at all? And also, I be wondering, what it would be like forty years from now. Am I going to have a good family? Healthy? Wealthy? Or am I going to die? What’s the point? Why we was born and die at a certain age? There’s certain shit I can’t talk about or tell people, ‘cause they going to start to look at you different and treat you in a different way or feel sad and bad for you.



Joy comes from the morning sun hitting my face, the loud birds that are never on the same page. The warm blanket I use to block out the morning sun, getting off of bed to put on my silly, fluffy, pig slippers that I always place underneath, half asleep, walking towards the smell of food. Heavy pancakes drizzled with syrup, strawberries, blueberries, sometimes bananas on top. Hearing the singing of an old man gives movement to my hips, the lil’ dance party or karaoke moment we have in the kitchen. Then sitting down on the table and getting the little forehead kisses that my mom says I’m never too old for. The nice smell of warm, fruity, tea that I feel I’m addicted to. Joy comes from the small moments in your life.


A NIM E FEVER by Breanna Lessey

The feeling of joy and laughter, it makes everyone’s day brighter. Some people find joy in reading when some find it in sleeping. Everybody is different in their own way. Like I find joy in Anime. It’s a stress reliever, but to be honest, I think I have Anime fever. But everything has a meaning behind it. Some people hate to admit all the weird and crazy things they like. But whatever they like fits them. They appreciate it. They value it. They enjoy it.


F IN D YOUR H APPINESS by Kenneth Chapman Jr.

Find your happiness. Not a lot of people find this, there’s too many factors to consider. It’s like looking into the ocean and every large body of water, for something that may just be in a river. Imagine you’re told to swim in the ocean, and everyone who saw cheered and clapped because that’s what they like. Now you’ve continued to do it and people lose interest, now you contemplate your entire life. Not because what you do is bad, not because what you did wasn’t extraordinary. But since you lived pleasing others with swimming, you were never really happy. In the end, you’ll find you desire something that will make you feel alive with pure success. Then you can’t look in the mirror of the ocean and say, “I’ve found my true happiness.”



by Krystal Brown What is home? Without the chair, the bathroom, there’s a kitchen and many rooms. The living room. Can’t forget the bed! The bed! After a long day of school you want to go to bed. That’s where you rest your head. You just want sleep not one sound, closing your eyes while the moon rise high. And I’m sleeping!


P O EM OF JOY by Michael Pierre

I am a boy, looking for joy. Too old for toys, too young for clubs. So where do I find joy? Is joy feeling free, or is it smiling uncontrollably? Is it both? Or is it completely different? Who knows? All I know is that basketball makes me free. Playing games makes me happy. Food makes me happy. I am grateful for all I have at this moment, even if I’m tired, sore, and about to pop. Do I not know what joy is because I have already been feeling it this whole time? The world may never know, or does it already.


HAP P INESS by Kayla Cooper

What makes me happy? Wait let’s see, there are many things I can say but I’ll just say these three: My earphones of course, without them, who would I be? Listening to beats all day? Yup, that’s me. Next up comes art, (which is my mouth in this world, by the way) expressing myself through my drawings all the way. Last but not least are my friends you see, making me laugh is what they’re good at, (hehe) always there for me no matter what. There are many things that bring me joy, I can see, but these here are my main three.


O NE OF TH E BEST by Queensly Jean-Francois

When I hear the whistle, it’s like a cannon giving the signal for the game to start— a war between warriors without weapons. But this battle is fought with talent and skill, with victory on their mind. By keeping the ball away from the opponents, with the need of surpassing the goalie, getting the ball inside the goal. The ball touching the net, seating of the crowd, hearing the screams, the cheers. You could hear it from a thousand miles away like a solar eclipse. Some people don’t understand this feeling. As soon as you touch the beautiful pitch and seventy thousand eyes watching you, your adrenaline is rushing and you start doing things you could have never imagined. But instead, it is those countless hours, from morning to night, from weekend to week, from rainy days to sunny days that is giving you the ability to perform with the world’s best. Fueled by failure, by people sleeping on your abilities, by all that you have sacrificed to chase this dream. And when you do touch the field, remember to PRAY TO GOD AND GIVE THANKS and also, most importantly, SHOW THEM WHY YOU DESERVE TO BE ONE OF THE BEST.



Joy is getting into the college you were dying to get into. Joy is listening to your favorite songs on full blast. Joy is liking someone that likes you back. Joy is seeing your family members who you haven’t seen in awhile. Joy is waking up at 4:00 AM to catch a flight to one of your favorite places. Joy is going to the beach and feeling the sand on your feet. Joy is seeing bright neon colors in the city at night. Joy is waking up next to a person you love. Joy is doing something as simple as going to the movies with your friends. Joy is going to your favorite restaurant and ordering your favorite food. Joy is spending time with your girlfriend or boyfriend, even if you’re not doing anything at all. Joy is seeing a beautiful horizon in the morning. Joy is going to an amusement park, going on those scary rides, and screaming with your friends. Joy is when the water at the beach or pool isn’t freezing and you feel like you can stay there forever. Joy is all the little, special, and big things in life.


WE CO U LD ALL ENJOY by Madison Moore

Making sure my sisters and brothers are good, and we all succeed, talking to each other every day to paint a picture we could see. Having positive energy around me and not negativity brings me joy, giving people great advice brings me joy, close friends telling me right from wrong brings me joy. But we all have to have each other’s back so that we could all enjoy.


I N S E ARCH by Marvin Pierre-Pierre

Pure joy to me is unknown. At one minute I’m smiling, the next I’m out of the zone. I could say the typical Xbox, or say my joy is being with a girl, but I doubt true joy exists in my world. Sounds deep, right? It’s pretty depressing, honestly, searching for joy in a limited-time world.


R EP E T ITION OF JOY by Khavon Hayes

Joy jumping for joy. In a pandemic with nothing left to destroy. Joy’s something you need at a time like this with problems. Cheer you up like a flower after it’s blossomed. When I’m not at my best I’m at my worst. If I’m not trying then I’m tryna make it work. And when the sun don’t shine that’s when I gotta put the dirt. My friends and family here to keep me comfort colliding with each other. Playing music to help with my emotions. Volume on max to block out the commotion. In the end, it’s just gonna go away. Like a kid outgrowing what they used to play. Like a memory in the past you can save. Time to go to sleep and feel it all again.


N OT AL ONE by Alexia Foster

I laugh at funny dog videos, my family’s awkwardness, my friends’ craziness, fun times, just being around bubbly personalities. Take pride in myself and the relationships in my life, my body, my future. I am grateful for everyone in my life, whether good or bad, ‘cause knowing them, I know, is for the betterment and growth of me. I see their spirits, their groundedness, their joy, their determination and drive, their loveliness, their smarts and their courage and kindness. I’m grateful for my friends, family, and life. My mom makes me feel the most not alone.


J OY-PA IN by Ian Simpson Life-death. Love-hate. Joy-pain. And now, I crave for the other side ‘cause everything has its joy. Joy has its joy and even pain has its joy, but what everyone looks for is the joy of joy. But I seek the pain. The sweetness in pain, pain in silence, silence in loneliness, loneliness in joy. ‘Cause everything has its joy!


T HE G ATEWAY TO JOY by Thoukir Preeo

Materialism is the gateway to joy. It takes my mind off of myself. Materialistic things are things that I enjoy. It lets me be able, at the end of the day, to misrepresent myself. To what extent does what I wear portray who I am? Making people laugh is the gateway to joy. It makes me feel commendable about myself. That laughter of acceptance and cordiality are things I enjoy. They let me know that, in some way or another, I am making people enjoy by being myself. I’ma be on TV, Mama. Control is the gateway to joy. It could possibly work, hand in hand, to help everything in the best interest of myself. Maybe then my feelings won’t intrude on my ability to enjoy, maybe then, I can be content with my feelings, leading to being content with myself. Feelings never cease. Guidance is the gateway to joy. It could possibly make me know what I’m doing with myself. Guidance would be something that, right about now, I would enjoy. It’s just the fact that I don’t know which type will be true to myself, living my life more by the book than living it the way I’m meant to? What could the consequences be? Answers are the gateway to joy. They’re what bring closure to myself. Closure allows me worry less and be able to enjoy. The answers I’ve been getting, however, have been the most


mutilating trick to myself. What’s more real? Faith? Reality? Balance is the gateway to joy. It sets itself to best serve myself, best serve me on my journey to true joy. But am I being selfish from the world with myself? To what extent does art truly compensate for all that is wrong in the world?


B RING ME JOY by Tramayne Baxton

Bring me joy. A scientific breakthrough, joy. A new present, joy. Friends, joy. Family, joy. Romance, joy. Graduation, joy? 2020, joy?


J O U R NEY TO JOY by Samyya Vandenberg

With the feeling of joy and laughter, you’d think my story ends with a “happily ever after.” Hold your head high while being praised, filled with humility, “good job,” they say. But what good is that if, behind your pride, you still feel empty inside? Abided by the rules, acknowledged the rules, accepted the rules, and still ended up in a ruse. “It’s tough love,” they say. Even when it leaves a bruise, I just don’t understand, I’m so confused. Your rating showed five-star reviews. It’s not me it’s you, but why do I feel so guilty? Your toxic logic makes me feel psychotic, but I appreciate whoever stands by me. I appreciate whoever values me. I appreciate me.



by Ronald Black The type of joy that people want is the same type of joy that thinks people can be happy and stress free. It is that same joy that many people look for in a person. Sometimes, having that one person in your life is your joy, that one person who helps you when things get rough or someone who stuck by your side when you didn’t have no one. Someone who loved you no matter what. There are different people who may have different opinions on what it means when you finally find that joy you always wanted, that joy you were always looking for. If you asked me what brings me joy... I’d say playing video games and this one girl, even though she’s a pain in my butt everyday, but she’s been there bringing me joy and helping me out a lot. The type of joy I have may be different from others but this joy is what keeps me going and keeps me motivated to be my very best, and I am beyond glad to ask you in return, who and what brings you joy?


T HE C ITY OF MONEY by Ian Simpson

They say money is the root of all evil, but our planet consists of money. We live in money and we can’t escape it. Money can provide joy to many, but, to those with no purpose, money is a toy. To the poor it’s a dream, to the rich it’s value. Evil is everywhere and value carries that evil, which has a voice of its own. Money controls many and provides a lot of opportunities, but who knows? Do you? Does money? Life revolves around my joy.


C RE ATE TO OVERTH ROW by Alexia Foster

Bright, create to overthrow destruction. Reflecting on the situation, our true strengths, talent and power. Whites are free, Blacks are grounded, the whites can spread their wings, but the Blacks are held down. Some white people have a fiery soul. Find your happy space and focus on the positives. Express feelings into the unknown. Compliment your skin with beautiful colors. Food, dogs, friends, family, silence, nature, soaks in the tub, drawing, naps, sitting on the balcony, doing chores, shopping, going places that are exciting, searching for discounts on cute clothes, getting packages.


R EA L J OY by Jahanni Barrett

Joy, what is joy? Joy can be anything, anything you want it to be, anything that matches you and your personality. Joy can be something that lets you fly high with success but joy can also be something that can burn with you, make you see things differently and sometimes bring you down. But is that real joy? Real joy makes you happy, makes you feel like you’re the most amazing person in the world. What brings me joy? Me loving the one boy who helps me feel sane, R brings me joy, me having my best friend by my side being there for her while she’s going through a hard time during this pandemic. Me being able to hold the people I love, and talk to them brings me Joy. Me being Black and beautiful brings me Joy. What doesn’t bring me joy? Seeing people who I love and care for suffering, losing someone who I thought was gonna be there for me forever. This VIRUS. Seeing people disrespect people of the same color as me, me not reaching and living to my goals and overcoming my predicaments. There will be things in life that will stop you from receiving your goal. But be patient, be good because the joy you’re looking for will come, and the bad joy, or the not-joy, will come, but it will only be for a matter of time. Be patient and remember you’re not alone. And I have to ask you: What in life brings you joy? And if it does, why?


WHAT BRINGS ME JOY by Johnny Griffin

What brings me joy is simple, what brings me joy is watching my hard work pay off. What I take pride in is what I’m most passionate about and that’s business. And the beauty I see in my life is that fact that I’m unbreakable. I make struggling look easy. What gives me pleasure? First it was girls, but now it’s keeping myself educated so I can be in the world of finance. I am grateful for myself, and I’m always alone. Being alone is hard to an average person, but to me it’s third nature. I’m always alone but my therapist used to understand me. That was cool…



a short story by Kayla Clark It was a hot summer morning. Birds chirping, sun gleaming through the windows, and the sound of the air conditioner running. “Jerome! Wake yo’ ass up! You got to go to school!” screamed Jerome’s mother. Jerome sucked his teeth, flipped to the other side of his bed and continued to sleep. “Jerome!” yelled his mother once more. A few seconds later, she busted open his bedroom door and yelled, “I know you heard me, get yo’ ass ready for school”. “Alright, Ma,” responded Jerome, got out of his bed. He headed to the bathroom, hopped in the shower, and got dressed. He then headed downstairs to join his family for breakfast. “Look at this nappy headed Negro up and ready to go to school,” said his sister Tracy. “I know you not talking with your crusty ass weave,’’ responded Jerome. “Shut all that fussing up before I whoop both of y’all asses,” said Momma. Jerome sat down and he ate his breakfast as fast as a shark would devour a fish. His father noticed that he was in a rush and said, “What you in a hurry for? Trying to do stupid shit with your hood rat friends?” Jerome looked at his father with guilt and responded, “No, just really excited to go to school.” His mother, sister, and father all looked at him in disbelief and said, “Mmhmm.” Jerome chuckled as he got up, put his dishes in the sink, and headed out the door. “Yo J! What’s the word today!” yelled TJ, as he approached Jerome in front of his door steps. TJ was one of Jerome’s friends, who always got into fights, was already in the system, and always wore a green bandana in his left back pocket. “Shit, you tell me,” responded Jerome. “Well, it’s these group of niggas jacking that they want beef. Me and my crew thinking ‘bout going over there to give them an ass whooping of a lifetime! You trying to pull up?” asked TJ.


“Nah bro, I got to go to school,” responded Jerome. TJ sucked his teeth and said, “Bro, stop being a punk. Pull up with us.” Jerome started to feel that he was under the pressure that if he didn’t go, then his friends would think that he’s weak and a punk. So, instead of Jerome telling TJ, No, I’m good. I’ll see you at school, hopefully, he responded “Aight”. TJ smiled and said “My boy! I knew you were tough! We just got to go to my crib to pick up some weapons for the fight.” So they made their way to his house. As they walked to TJ’s house, Jerome looked upset. He thought, This is a bad idea.. What if I get hurt?? Or even die?? Man, I should really go to school. But it was too late. They had already arrived at TJ’s house. They went into TJ’s bedroom. His room was a mess, with clothes covering his bed, food wrappers all over the floor, and shoe boxes in every corner of the room. TJ picked up this one specific shoe box and handed it to Jerome. “What’s this?” asked Jerome. “Just open it,” responded TJ. Jerome opened it and saw a grey pistol. “My uncle gave it to me before he went to jail. Shit wavy right?” Jerome just stared at the gun, shocked and scared, and responded, “Hell yea bro.” TJ took the gun from Jerome and tucked it in his pants. He called the rest of his crew to tell them that they’re about to go fight. He gave Jerome a knife and told him to hold it just in case he needs it during the fight. Then they headed out of his house and went up the block to go meet up with the rest of their friends. All Jerome could think about was the gun, scared of the fact that they could either get arrested or could kill someone. They met up with the rest of their friends. Each of them was ready and eager to fight. All of them were loud, screaming at the top of their lungs, while they walked down the street. They finally arrived at the park where the people they were supposed to fight were at. TJ and his crew lined up at the entrance of the park, like soldiers in the army. “Yo punks! Y’all said y’all wanted to fight right? We here now, wassup!?” yelled TJ.


All of a sudden, the group of boys ran towards Jerome and his friends started fighting them. TJ punched out people and his friends did the same. Jerome just stood frozen. He thought if he stayed like that, he wouldn’t get hurt. After TJ knocked out one of the boys, another boy pulled out a gun. “Everybody move out!” said the boy to his friends. He starts shooting at Jerome and his crew. As soon as they heard the gunshots, Jerome and his friends ran out of the park. They all scattered like roaches when you turn on the lights. Jerome’s heart was beating out of his chest as he ran, then all of a sudden— POW! —Jerome dropped. A bullet went straight into his leg. As he fell down, another shot was fired. Another bullet grazed his shoulder. He looked around to see if anyone was near, but all of his friends vanished. He lay on the cold concrete, silently crying, as he continued to bleed. Sirens went off in the distance as he zoned out... /// Jerome finally woke up, in a hospital bed. His mom was all in his face, giving him the look of shame. Jerome looked around the room and saw balloons and flowers were brought for him. “How long have I been here?” asked Jerome. “You wondering how long you been here, instead of worrying about your injuries?” His mother sucked her teeth and continued her rant. His father cut her off and said, “Alright honey! Lord knows what we want to do to his tail, but he got shot for God’s sake. At least the boy is alive, just cut him some slack for right now.” “Alright, I’ll save it for another time. So, please tell me what happened before I lose my mind.” Jerome sighed and started to tell them what happened. His family


got frustrated and angry that he would put himself in that predicament. Jerome looked up and saw their facial expressions and, as he lay back down in pain, and busted out in tears. “I am so sorry y’all. I know I should’ve been in school and I just chose to do what my friends wanted me to do. I’m so sorry.” His father shook his head, and responded, “You see? Your friends are going to be the death of you, forreal. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’re going to be dead before you’re 25.” Jerome just lay there in shame, thinking that he needed to change his lifestyle. /// As time went by, the flowers wilted and the balloons started to lose their air. Although Jerome’s leg was feeling way better. It took a couple of weeks for him to recover, but when he finally did, he was able to go home. As they were walking out of the hospital, he looked at his mother and said, “Momma, I promise I’m going to change my ways. No more gang stuff, no trouble making, no nothing. I’m going to do better in school and in life, and I’m not fucking with them niggas no more”. “Alright, you can’t just say that, you got to prove it. And boy watch yo’ mouth when you’re speaking to me,” responded Momma. Jerome chuckled. “Alright momma, my bad. And I will prove it”. Jerome arrived home and saw TJ across the street. Jerome looked at TJ and TJ waved at Jerome. Jerome completely ignored him. “Alright now, I’m going to go put all your stuff in the house. You need some help getting out?” Momma asked. “Nah Momma, I’m good. Thank you, though. But, I’m ‘bout to handle something real quick, I’ll be inside in a second,” he responded as he looked at TJ. His mother looked to see who he was looking at. “Okay. Don’t take too long now.” As Momma walked inside, TJ crossed the street and approached Jerome. “What’s good homie! I was meaning to come check on you, but I was busy… Doing stuff. You good?”


Jerome looked at TJ in disgust and replied, “Mmhmm.” TJ recognized his facial expressions and asked, “Bro, why you moving like that?” Jerome stared at TJ with the meanest, most disgusted face and responded, “Why I’m moving like that?? WHY I’M MOVING LIKE THAT?! I fully got shot TWICE for y’all niggas and y’all ain’t even call, nor come see me, to see if I was good! But, it’s alright ‘cause now I know what type of ‘friends’ y’all are. And I thank y’all for that! And, word to my mother, I don’t want nothing to do with you. You a dub.” He gave TJ another mean look, turned around, and headed into the house. TJ just watched him as he headed inside, feeling guilty. Jerome started to feel relieved, like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He smiled and said, “Damn, that felt good.” Jerome might just make it past 25…


A M IRR OR DECEPTION a short story by Janiah Hines

A takeover wasn’t even the word to properly use. The United States slowly crumpled one day at a time. The land was rumbling, pebbles were floating and the sun never came up. New York City, the home of all dreams, became the first spot of destruction. Missiles and armies became the enemy—they were forced but not in control, the drugs did it. It was the issue of today’s society. Incompetent destruction, not even in the blink of an eye. That’s how long it took, cities began one by one falling to the ground. People scouring toward airports, hoping to get a plane ticket out of the States but that all didn’t matter. Soldiers got there first, blocking all entrances and exits out of the country. You were lucky if you already made it out, but for the rest it was over. In retrospect, society took a turn for the worse. In the arms of the President, we were all destroyed. He cowered in fear and he wanted to become powerful, so he did by using the one thing we all use. Our doctors became the distribution systems for the government’s little experiment. One call is all it takes and only one sentence. Within the next day, people lined up outside their hospitals, clinics, or even hometown doctors’ homes. There seemed to be a new disease roaming around and the only way to build up your immune system was to take a set of pills daily in order to prevent yourself from obtaining it. But this drug wasn’t just any ordinary drug—it made you see things. Exactly what they wanted you to see. There I sat in my kitchen; white marble counters, black cupboards full of food and plates and bowls. The pots and pans were in the bottom cupboards. A silver chandelier was above me while I was writing on the island. I usually write whatever was on my mind—call it a journal or diary, whatever seems outta the ordinary—but in my beautiful white modern house I was at peace. I was home with my family until the day came where I had to attend school for another miserable day. A single glass of orange juice, no pulp, but a small glare of light is all it took for me to realize the time of day. “Nicolette Davis, where are you?” My mother shouted from upstairs. I jumped up, heart ready for the race to beat the next call. My feet moved without consent up the stairs, and into my little brother Leon’s room. There, the door opened on its own revealing a child covered in


water, lacking heat, body trembling, feet glistening and eyes pooling. “What the heck is wrong with him?” As I walked closer to him, he stepped back in fear. “I don’t know. He got in the shower and screamed when I came back to the bathroom.” My mother spoke as I couldn’t take my eyes off Leon. Something was off about him; he stared at me. His eyes melted into mine and it was fear that surprised me. I couldn’t imagine what happened, what really happened. “Mom, how about I finish up here and you cook breakfast?” I said. My arms wrapped around Leon, our hearts began to beat as one as he slowly began to calm down, one minute at a time. His skin began to dry and there, like a vampire, I’d seen the only spot of his skin still wet: around his bagged eyes. They were hanging like luggage; how could a child have so many bags at five years old? But he had trouble sleeping for two weeks now and I couldn’t understand why. “That’s not mommy,” he whispered. His hands touched my shoulder and the towel dropped, revealing his small, round baby-like butt. His eyes locked with mine, brown pools of honey. “Why say that?” I replied. “Because mommy and daddy are—” He cut off mid-sentence as the door creaked. My head turned but no one was at the door. I felt his fingers lift off my chest and a whiff of air brushed past me as Leon ended up in the bathroom. I stood to my feet and walked over to him. Leon was naked and the towel was still on the floor. He locked his body in his own arms, head in his knees, and rocking. He was crying as if his brain was being ripped to shreds from the inside. I picked his fragile body up and felt every tear hit my shoulder. I managed to grab the clothes my mother attempted to dress him in and headed to my room. I closed my door behind me and dressed Leon. Luckily it was a weekend so school didn’t exist today. I looked at my bedside table; a glass of water and a small white pill sat there. Leon’s curly hair was a mess, all scrunched up in a bun with his hairline full of breakage. His black hair was different from mine—I had two afro puffs. He laid on the ground, took one of my pillows, and slid into a weird position. “No pill.” After looking back at the pill, it was gone. A puzzled expression hit my face and my room became a game trying to find the treasure. I knew if I couldn’t take the pill I’d get in trouble. I knew bad things would happen. So I began searching around the floor,


every ounce of dust, every inch of the floor, every piece of clothing was lifted, every sheet and blanket undone. Yet, I managed to stumble upon Leon’s foot. “Screw it. Leon sleeps on the floor then.” It was still early but no one ever said you can’t sleep more than once. I fixed my bed and slid inside. When my eyes cracked open it was the afternoon, or so it seemed. The world seemed to change from bright and juicy to nasty and destroyed. My head jolted up to fully see the sight of my room. It seemed the walls had history and it was fighting a war within itself. The wood floor slightly lifted in certain areas of the ground. The door itself was gone, probably lost in the hallway or entangled in the walls. The dust was now gone and replaced by a strange red and brown liquid around my floor. My window showed a world I wish I’d never seen before. The street lights were torn off and sparks flew around like a firework show. The streets looked like they hadn’t heard laughter in years. The sewage build-up was shockingly overflowing like a river. The road flowed with tremendous disease and dead bodies. Blood seemed to cover the land for what appears to be longer than 5 miles. The houses themselves shivered. Every door slammed open and shut. They all tangoed with the wind, one step, two step—BANG. My head tilted back into my filthy room, only to figure out I’m on a mattress with no bed frame. No box spring, no headboard, just sheets and a blanket and a pillow. But the wall above me had blood splatter. I looked to my right and there it was: the reason Leon couldn’t sleep at night. Our two parents were dead on the floor, with Leon staring right into the eyes of our father. His hand on his cheek, whispering, “Wake up.” He was shaking him with all his might. This is what the pill was hiding: the Reality. I stood to my feet, quickly grabbed Leon off the floor and instantly threw him on the bed. I looked again at the sight in front of me and instantly my heart stopped. The stars surrounded them, angels lifted them and blood encased them. A single bullet to the head was what devoured their lives. Their eyes glistened as they were wide open. Blood still slowly poured out of their bodies. I jumped on top of Leon, pinning him down. “WHAT IS THIS?”


“Mommy and daddy…” he whispered. “So who gave you a bath this morning?” My mind scrambled. “Katy.” “Who the hell is Katy?” Footsteps were heard running up the stairs and my heart sped up. It pounded against my chest with a large thud every single time. The pressure it was enduring. My brain as it throbbed. It needed stitches. I couldn’t surrender myself to this reality. My mother was dead, my father was dead. Lifeless. My brother was asleep in my room in between their bodies for two weeks and I didn’t even realize. I was a terrible sister. My body ached, acid rumbled, the taste of meatloaf from last night got lost in my tastebuds. The bulging pain of my body left me with nothing but my sense of hearing. The loudest huffing and puffing I ever heard came right from my doorway. In the distance all my walls got closer as I was being sucked into a small space that guided me to the door. The walls echoed with a heartbeat that intensified. I could hear it all: blood running through the person’s veins, their neck bulging. My eyes locked with a bright blue-eyed, pale-skinned woman with brown locks that dragged to the waist of her body. Skinny, almost wickedly bony, with tall black boots and scratch marks running up her arms. It seemed like someone had been scratching her for a while. My head turned to Leon, realizing it had to have been Leon who had been scratching her. He was the only one who wasn’t old enough to take the pills yet. Then it hit me. “That’s not mommy.” This was the woman who was pretending to be my mother; the one who killed her and Leon probably saw it. That day when I sat on the island with Italian food surrounding me, music stringing, gliding along with my father’s fingers. The tune made my ears twitch with each beat, the orange hue outside of the window. My body swayed to the music on its own, feet entangled in tune. My father stood to his feet when he locked his fingers with mine. Our bodies were dancing to my father’s now humming. Immediately, we both stopped when the floor began to echo. One loud sound bounced off the walls and an endless heartbeat rustled inside me. My father’s fingers unlinked and there I stood in shock. Before my eyes, he ran up the stairs before I could even catch my next breath, and there I was: a piece of ice slowly melting. I built up speed


before finally heading off into the hallways and jolting up the stairs, skipping two steps with every jump. Not one thing was going to stop me from this investigation until I reached the door. There, my mother laid silently on the ground next to my brother. Leon looked as if he was dropped or he fell. My father ran to Leon, lifting him up and placing him into my arms. He smelled like delectable vanilla cake, his favorite flavor. But even as my hand pressed Leon’s head against my neck, I couldn’t understand what my father was staring at. There was an empty wall and water fell down my neck. “Dad, what are you staring at?” I whispered. There couldn’t be a ghost; there was no such thing. Was he imagining my mother standing there? Was he imaging my mother as an angel? I looked down and there she still was alive. Chest moving, oxygen exchanging and lips still as plump as ever. Her hair now slightly flattened from the fall. “Take Leon and go to your boyfriend’s house. NOW!” The rise in his voice was concerning. The moment I turned to where Leon was facing my father quickly grabbed my neck, sucking all the oxygen. I ran because I knew something was off. At this very moment, I’m looking at this woman and shifting my gaze between my parents. She was there in my room that night. She shot them. Katy slowly began moving closer as my shocked face shifted to anger. My eyes struck her with such hatred I could kill. But I knew the reality of the moment: I needed to get out the door. Leon sat up and knew my next move. He walked toward the door and grabbed Katy’s pants. His innocent eyes became covered by his curly hair once he looked down at the ground. “Sissy had a nightmare.” Leon was one of the smartest children I’ve ever come to know. “Aww...Nicolette, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I can sleep in here if you want?” Katy slowly moved closer toward my bed. Her frail body frightened me; her body seemed like it was so easy to snap. Time had been drying her up but her hair made her appear younger. She lifted an arm, her palm to my face. My body tensed up and I jolted my hand on my pillow. In an instant, my pillow slammed her face, pushing her body to the ground. I don’t want to kill her. She was drowning in my pillow. She scratched and swung, I sat on her face. The prints of my arse laid to rest on her face, only a thick pillow in


between. Leon was smart enough to turn around. Thirty seconds later, she stopped her rumbling and laid to rest for a while. She would need to catch a breather before trying to chase after either one of us. I grabbed the first pair of sneakers I saw, dashed over to the door, snatched up Leon and ran to his room for his slide-on sneakers. Pounding—my chest was racing. I didn’t know what to do or feel. I needed to get Leon out. Then and there, a bright light seeped through the window and flashed onto my face. My hand moved to avoid the brightness but in the distance I noticed something, a boy riding a bike down the street heading straight for my house. I slipped on my shoes and swung Leon onto my back. The whistling came from outside, my hair galloped with the tune of nature. The boy stopped and I realized who was standing in front of me. “Romanov, I’m so glad to see you.” His eyes seemed full of worry. “What’s wrong?” Romanov stared at me. His long, jet black hair traveled all over the place, his built body making me feel like the bike was too small for him. His tan skin and chiseled face—for a second I forgot my troubles just by standing in front of him. “You’re not seeing what I’m seeing, are you?” I spoke. My eyes glanced around at the destruction and gashes in the houses. Wires falling out of buildings leaving sparks everywhere, small trash fires, wrangling stripped pests rummaging around the existing mess. It seemed like a nuclear reactor went on. Suddenly, a deep sigh escaped me. “You mean how the world we’ve come to know is completely destroyed because of the President’s pills?” My eyes widened. “How did you know that?” “Leon did the same thing to me last week when you came over after something happened at your house. He stashed my pill pack and then I woke up, but when you opened your eyes from your slumber you saw the peaceful world. I’ve been teaching Leon ways to get the pills, and every time he tried he got hurt.” Romanov explained. “So what now?” “We go to my family’s boat that will take us to a private island. That’ll take you out of the country. It’s a secret operation your parents have been doing. That’s why in reality there’s no one here. Let’s get walking.” Romanov stood up as I picked Leon up and laid him on the seat of the bike in front of him. Romanov had wrapped one hand around Leon and the other on the handle bars. Leon was smart enough


to grab the handle bars as protection since there wasn’t a seat belt. “Where are we going to go?” I questioned. “To my house to get my car. I ride my bike every day to see if one day you’d see what we see.” Romanov looked serious. He knew what he was talking about. “So you didn’t just set me off the pills like Leon?” I said curiously as my mind traveled a ton of ideas as to how they could’ve made this routine go a bit faster. Maybe when Leon figured it out, he stole my stash first and then his? Or if he stole Romanov’s first, then stole mine literally the next day? “Let’s go.” Romanov sped off, ignoring my question. My mind boggled with ideas. My first thought was to just push him off the bike but Leon was on the bike with him. Romanov and I seemed to always be right next to each other. We met five years ago when we moved into this neighborhood and he was instantly smiling when he saw me. Yet I was always creeped out by it; who smiles that much at a person you don’t know? But I realized that the one thing attracting me was his eyes, the way it seemed like they sparked at me every day. I’d walk past his house every day to see him until he started asking me out and it clicked from there. It was love in an instant. I ran right behind him to the end of the block to the black Range Rover. I got in the back seat with Leon and Romanov got in the front. Romanov slowly reversed the car from the driveway and instantly he hit something. Or something hit us. I turned my head and bright blue eyes locked with me; a tightskinned woman’s body against the side door. My body ached, stomach on tilt, Leon’s grip around my wrist cutting off the circulation. This woman was wicked—such a destructive being. Her face and body were destroying my stomach. Her mind must be scrambled. Yet instantly I matched her gaze, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was staring at Leon. She stared like an attachment was made in her own imagination. Birds hawked in the distance right before Romanov stepped on the gas, taking Katy’s face with us. Imprints of sweat and heat ghosted the window next to me. “Tell me Katy won’t get us.” Leon had fear in his eyes. The fear in my body challenged me, adrenaline pumped throughout my body, ready to burst out and create multiple holes in me. But I had to mask it. My arm pulled Leon in closer as the town I used to know disappeared from me. I stared out the window, watching the outside world become a blur. I shook my head occasionally to stay awake, but


my head rocked in all sorts of directions. Consciousness was leaving my body and my brain was drained of energy. The thoughts scrambled and realization hit me like a rock. My parents were dead. I let my baby brother get abused by a skinny twig lady. I let my brother sleep by my parents’ dead bodies. I couldn’t boggle the realization of my life as quickly as it hit me. My body was giving up on me as my head fell right on top of Leon’s. “Go ahead and sleep, Nicolette. Leon will fall asleep soon. I’ll take care of you and Leon, no matter what.” Leon was definitely a sleepyhead. I looked down and he passed out on my arm. There, I fell into a deep slumber. My parents’ lifeless bodies laid on the floor underneath two sheets, where I stood in a large black empty room. Nothing but me, my parents and air. There, I stared but only saw pixels of my own imagination. Then, a sound bounced off the wall and I was in oblivion. “Nicolette, help me.” Leon’s voice carried itself with the wind of the room. My mind boggled, my hands punched my head remembering that very exact day. Before my dad locked my fingers in a dance, there was a scream for me from Leon. But I was so entangled in my own happiness to realize the trouble upstairs. Then I see me and my father dancing, twirling with Leon’s screaming bouncing around me. My father stopped dancing and ran while I stood there in shock. “HELP ME!” My hands blocked my ears trapping the nose on the outside, only allowing small bits of the sound into my head. My body dropped to the floor, eyes shut crying. Suddenly, someone gripped my hair around their fist jolting my head up witnessing the rest. “You don’t get to miss this,” the voice said. “No, please make it stop,” I sobbed uncontrollably. My father ran up the stairs and opened the door. His eyes widened as Katy stood right in front of my mother who had Leon in her hands. She stood proudly with a gun, a smirk on her face, and shot my mother which led to Leon’s fall. My father ran to Leon, checking his body for bleeding. She stared at Katy before handing Leon over. He repeated the same words. “Take Leon and go to your boyfriend’s house. NOW!” My body left the room but I saw it all. My father stood and awaited his turn. He knew what was going to happen, and then it did. Katy shot him, his body laid right next to hers.


“NO!” I sobbed, grabbing the person’s hair, flipping her over my shoulder and punching her face over and over. In one punch she managed to launch me back into reality. I woke up on a boat with my head aching and Leon’s head resting on my lap. My head pounding from the rocking boat. My eyes adjusted to the sunset in front of me. Yet something was slightly blocking the light. Romanov sat across from me, smiling at me with his sexy smile. “I love you.” “I love you, too.” He stood up, kissed my forehead and left the room. I adjusted Leon and stood to my feet. Outside seemed so peaceful, luxurious, empty. The water holds so many living creatures but I only saw the waves. The calming water was making me feel more at ease. The room we were in was basic and simple. The brown wooden seat traveled along both sides and a small blanket was folded where Romanov sat. I picked it up and put it over Leon’s slightly lifeless body. A chill of fear warmed my body, making me feel hot and sweaty. I couldn’t believe Leon endured such pain behind my back and I couldn’t see any of it. His body had slight cuts from hits, but I guess I couldn’t see it because of the pills. They made me see a peaceful society, the world they wanted me to see. I walked up to the surface, its wobbling causing me to slightly lose my balance. Romanov turned his head and laughed as his grip tightened on the railing across from me. Once I regained my balance, the light hit the back of my body, heating it up. His eyes widened and didn’t leave me. With one hand he grabbed my waist pulling me chest to chest. My heart beating and our eyes locked with one another. His lips synced with mine, latching onto one another. Music played in the back of my head; it was a happy melody. The same melody my dad played—one of the happiest moments of my life just feeling a sense of safety. Romanov made me feel safe and made Leon feel safe. I surrendered myself to him, passionately intensifying the kiss. My hands on each side of his cheeks, making it known that I showed my love in the kiss. Then we stopped, smiled and laughed a bit. “You could’ve left me a long time ago to save yourself and you didn’t,” I said, my eyes still locked. “I couldn’t leave the one girl I’ve come to love. Who I will give the rest of my life to?”


I stepped back. “Huh?” “You are my life, you’ve been my life. I want to spend eternity with you.” He slowly got on one knee, pulled out a box and opened it. “Will you marry me once we’re out of this country?” The ring was so enormous it shined even with the sun almost gone. It stole my gaze away from Romanov. “Please say yes.” I turned my head to Leon cradled in a blanket. “Yes, I’ll marry you.” He put the ring on my finger and I gave him a kiss. “Now let me get us to the island.” He ran up toward the steering. “Better grab a seat, it’s going to be a rocky few hours.” Not too long after, we were on a plane exiting the United States. There wasn’t any hope for it anymore, with everyone corrupted and destroyed from an apparent bombing on major cities and even smaller ones. This was the end of the United States.



AC KN OWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to Dr. Penn and Dr. Mbuyi for your trust and support. Thank you for always making student voices heard. Thanks to all staff members, especially the ELA department, Mr. Fetcho, Ms. Phillips, and Ms. Brown, for sharing lesson ideas and materials. Thanks to Ms. Webber for making remote learning and communication happen—none of this could’ve been possible without the Google classrooms you helped staff create—and your lightningfast responses (even after hours) to reset student emails and passwords. Thank you to the attendance team (Ms. Kalli, Ms. Gordon, Mr. Grant, and Ms. Ray) for all of your tireless efforts to boost participation and get kids to show up. Special tThanks to Willie and Aarti and everyone at 826 for your flexibility, energy, and inspiration! —Molly Jo Gorevan

Impossibly huge thanks go to Molly Jo Gorevan/Ms. G for inviting us into her classes, where her ambitious, funny, and deeply literary students clearly flourish in the presence of her sense of humor, her nurturing imagination, and her love of writing and writers. Thanks also to Aarti Monteiro, 826NYC’s Director of Education, a skilled mentor and accomplice, who helped keep this project on track even as the world spiraled into chaos. Elise Ingber was a superstar writing mentor, who helped guide the project while we were still in-school. Allie Singer, Rachel Davies, and Hillary Tacuri contributed the very sharpest copy editing skills. Lala Jackson, Lauren Stefaniak, and Carly Fisher were the brilliant proofreaders who helped usher this collection into existence. I also give thanks and offer my respect and solidarity to the students whose works are collected here. I’m deeply inspired by their generosity and look forward to the amazing ways they’re going to make the world better. —Willie Filkowski

826NYC and The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. 372 Fifth Ave Brooklyn, NY 11215 718.499.9884 www.826nyc.org Staff Joshua Mandelbaum, Executive Director Aarti Monteiro, Director of Education Nico Garbaccio, Volunteer and Programs Manager Thais Vitorelli, Programs Coordinator Corey Ruzicano, Programs Coordinator Summer Medina, Community Engagement Strategist Jesusdaniel Barba, Programs Coordinator Lauren Everett, Communication & Fundraising Coordinator Chris Eckert, Store Manager Sonya Moore, Retail Associate Board of Directors Tammy Oler, President Ted Wolff, Vice President Ray Carpenter, Treasurer Michelle McGovern, Secretary Michael Colagiovanni Laurie Malkin Amir Mokari Arjun Nagappan Katie Schwab Danielle Sinay Andrew Sparkler Liza Steinberg Alyson Stone Maura Tierney Thom Unterburger Kathryn Yontef

826NYC Programs After-School Tutoring We offer free tutoring four days per week for students ages six to eighteen. Students work with volunteer tutors in small groups to finish homework assignments, complete independent writing projects, and to read independently, in pairs or in groups. We serve students of all skill levels and interests and work with parents and teachers to create independent learning objectives and support plans for struggling students. Evening and Weekend Workshops We offer writing-based workshops that provide in-depth instruction in a variety of subjects that schools often cannot include in their curricula. These workshops cover topics such as college entrance essays, comic book–making, creative writing, journalism, poetry, and filmmaking. All workshops are taught by teaching artists and are limited in size to ensure that students receive plenty of individual attention. In-School Support for Teachers The strength of our volunteer base allows us to provide in-school support to work with students in New York City classrooms. We recognize that large class sizes make it increasingly difficult for teachers to provide individualized feedback and guidance on research and writing. We send volunteers to the classroom to assist teachers with providing this essential one-on-one support. Hosted Field Trips 826NYC welcomes classes from public schools for mornings of high-energy storytelling activities. Our most popular field trip is our Storytelling and Bookmaking project, in which elementary school students write, illustrate, publish, and bind their own books in a two-hour session. At the conclusion of this trip, each student leaves with his or her own copy of the book and a newfound excitement for writing. Our other field trips cover topics such as memoir writing, screenwriting, and more. Student Publications Through our writing workshops and after-school tutoring program, our volunteers work with students to help them create stories, poems, and ’zines. Because we believe that the quality of students’ work is greatly enhanced when they are given the chance to share it with an authentic audience, we are committed to publishing student works. By encouraging their work and by guiding them through the process of publication, we make abundantly clear that their ideas are valued.

Under All the Toughness: Stories, Sketches, and Fragments from the High School for Global Citizenship is a wideranging collection of protest poems, love letters, ruminations, lyrics, and short stories written by a group of young authors navigating the many challenges of their lives—falling in love, discovering one’s identity, cultivating joy, fighting oppressive systems, surviving COVID-19, and confronting police brutality against Black people. Inside, you’ll find uncompromising works written with infinite imagination by a group of young authors who, no doubt, know the best way forward. Proceeds from the sale of this book benefit 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students, ages six to eighteen, with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.