A Story of Racial Injustice Inspired This Moving Poem from a Middle Schooler

Student writing
Student writing

We’re about midway through the 2016-17 Sharing History Initiative, and we’re witnessing a lot of exciting work from participating teachers and students.

Jennifer Dean is an 8th grade English teacher at Leander Middle School, a Title I school just north of Austin, Texas. As part of this year’s Sharing History cohort, she received a classroom set of The Voice of Witness Reader: Ten Years of Amplifying Unheard Voices last summer. Students in her pre-AP English class read two oral histories from the Reader and were asked to write an illustrated poem about a specific scene from one of the narratives.

One student, Taylor, submitted a poem about Yusufu Mosely. Yusufu is a former resident of Cabrini-Green, a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing project. His narrative originally appeared in High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing.

Here’s what Taylor had to say about why she chose Yusufu’s story:

When reading about Yusufu’s life, I liked how his life started off like any other—playing in the streets, family dinners—but then it gradually started to get worse, following the Boy Scout incident. Yusufu began to see the world as it truly was: a racist, violent world, but in the end it turned into something beautiful.

The section, “We called racism ‘Prejudice’ then” was about Yusufu and his experience as a Boy Scout. This section details the first time Yusufu experienced racism and his hatred for white people started to grow. I chose this scene because without it, the rest of his life probably wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. Because this happened at such a young age, it’s almost as if he was traumatized; he didn’t have anyone to speak out for him. When Yusufu learned that the world wasn’t like he thought, that anger started to build and grow until there was nothing left.

While writing the poem, I realized I wanted it to explain the scene in chronological order; something simple, yet elaborate. This was one of the most important scenes in his life so I wanted the reader to get the full experience of what it was like to be in his shoes, what he was seeing through his eyes.

Yusuf’s life was so unique and interesting, I think it should be known across the world; how he got back on his feet after being knocked down so hard is an inspiration.




The moon began to rise and the sun
began to set,
hundreds of kids
around the campfire,
different races, different genders,
all together for one night of fun.

But fun did not describe the entire night,
the hatred between the white boys
and us only expanded,
the words only of anger and despair.
No one stood up, no one called out,
as my heart was chipped away.

We would not cope, we would not flee,
and the words that were said could
not be drawn back.
The faces they made,
the people who crowded,
they would not leave my thoughts for the next

I never looked at the world the same way again.
The earth was different, and it could
not be undone,
and if the world thought that of me,
I would think that of the world.

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