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Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters: Poetry & Social Justice

This guide was created to support the Lift Every Voice initiative and grant. Tarrant County College is one of 49 institutions across the United States chosen to provide programming for this initiative.

Social Justice

Social justice is a term we hear frequently, but it is a relatively new concept that arose after the Industrial Revolution. The United Nations defines social justice as "the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth" (p. 7), but it also includes the concepts of environmental sustainability so future generations enjoy the same access to natural resources as we do and a revival of the social contract, meaning those who have power are obligated to use it for the benefit of all. Though some protest poetry has been written for centuries, most poetry traditionally tended to have an introspective focus. With the rise of venues such as slam poetry performances and social media, poets who once performed primarily in academic arenas can now speak directly to a wider audience. Poetry has responded by becoming more political and outward facing. The personal is inherently political, and social justice poetry excels at drawing that connection.

Quotes about Poetry and Social Justice

one vote is an opinion with a quiet legal force :: a barely audible beep in the local traffic, & just a plashless drop of mercury in the national thermometer. but a collectivity of votes /a flock of votes, a pride of votes, a murder of votes/ can really make some noise. Quote from Evie Shockley
poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. . . Poetry is the way we give name to the nameless so it can be thought. . .It lays a foundation for a future of change. . .Quote from Audre Lorde
And who will join this standing up and the ones who stood without sweet company will sing and sing back into the mountains and if necessary even under the sea  we are the ones we have been waiting for. Quote from June Jordan
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. Quote from Langston Hughes
I love America more than any any other country in this world. And, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. Quote from James Baldwin
“People do violence unto each other and unto the earth and unto its creatures. Poetry,” I shouted, “Poetry,” I screamed, “Poetry changes none of that by what it says or how it says, none. But a poem is a living thing made by living creatures (live voice in a small box) and as life it is all that can stand up to violence.” Quote from Elizabeth Alexander
They want me to like it, or at least pretend, so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are— this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled  . . .   We must remember who we are. We are worth fighting for. Quote from Parneshia Jones
We must create work that refuses to leave this world the same as when we entered. We do not have the luxury of only writing the selfish confession, we must testify in our court of craft that these poems we write are bold, unflinching, and unwilling to stale idle in a geography of madness. We must demand of ourselves to write the uncomfortable, dangerous, shift-making poems. . . I end this letter by not begging you “please”, but by telling you “you must.” Quote from Open Letter to White Poets from Danez Smith
I am sick of writing this poem but bring the boy. his new name his same old body. ordinary, black dead thing. bring him & we will mourn until we forget what we are mourning & isn't that what being black is about? Quote from Not an Elegy for Mike Brown by Danez Smith


Books from TCC Library