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MLK Assembly makes waves

Spoken word performance stirs debate on post-election social issues

By Payton Madson

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Senior Champagne Ryder performed his spoken word poem “Call to Action” at RAHS’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day Assembly, which has since caused a stir in the student body. Ryder intended to help people see issues of inequality and injustice through his eyes, but also to spur his peers to action on those issues.

 

Wipe your tears and I’m glad you’ve awoken

For the people have spoken

And we haven’t lost yet.

For the next four years we need to be the safety net

Call your senator and voice your frustrations

And do not fall to relaxation.

 

Ryder’s poem raised a wide range of current issues, including racism, mass media, gender and sexual identity, urban violence, and incarceration and prison labor, but stayed focused on the theme of its title, “Call to Action.”

 

“This is not a joke

Those who didn’t want this or couldn’t vote

Call your representatives

Senators and politicians

And stay woke”

 

Sections of Ryder’s performance were particularly controversial for calling out President Donald Trump, who hadn’t yet been inaugurated, asserting that Trump “doesn’t resonate” for the majority of Americans. The work also referred to the new president as “a reality TV star,” “bigoted,” and “friends with Russia.”

 

Junior Danil Gossen, who is Russian, took exception to what he heard as a connection between Russia and bigotry.

 

“I am Russian, and I receive many stereotypes on my behalf and please don’t think there is no racism towards Russians,” said Gossen. “It would be ignorant to do so. When people believe that my race is the primary determinant of human traits, I call that racism.”

 

Ryder acknowledged the impact his performance would have, in discussions following the assembly and in the poem itself.

 

I’m sorry for the some whose feelings I just poked

But most of you just had your eyes opened

So make sure you stay woke.”

 

Controversy aside, RAHS Principal Therese Tipton praised the directness and personal conviction of Ryder’s poem along with the energy it brought to the assembly.

 

“There are some people [who] cringe a little because, in reality, he is speaking the truth,” said Tipton, “and sometimes it is hard to recognize and hear the truth.”

 

One of Ryder’s main goals in performing the poem was to share his frustration with the lack of focus on issues facing the United States, as he believes they should be more of a priority for political action.

 

“My main intent was to open people’s eyes up to the institutions that we have in place,” said Ryder, “we’re all trying to be socially conscious with hashtags and all of this in Aleppo and everywhere else, but no one wants to look at the US, and that’s mainly what I wanted to point out. We’re not as bad as these guys, we’re not as bad as those guys, but we still have stuff we can work on.”

 

Alongside some of its more polarizing stanzas, “A Call to Action” also struck a particularly unifying note, calling on diverse communities to work together on issues of common concern.

 

“For this was the vision

Brighter than nuclear fission

For all people

Black White African Dominican European

Asian Hispanic whatever

Male female LGBTQ

Whatever it is be you

We need reform

We need change

This isn’t a game”

 

At other moments, Ryder seemed to be reaching out to people with more conservative views than his own, referencing issues and events that have recently been sources of tension in the school community.

 

“We’re not saying only black lives matter

And talk to any one of us

About the beating in Chicago of the disabled white man

And you’ll hear all of us have the same stand”

 

Ryder’s willingness to speak his mind, even knowing the response he would likely face, was what stood out the most to junior Sameer Romani, who commented on Ryder’s Facebook post of his performance.

 

“Any who backlashed you [Ryder], in my opinion, really needs to think twice,” said Romani in a comment on Ryder’s video, “I was moved by your speech and honestly had nothing but awe in the way you expressed your words. Even if people don’t agree with you, you expressed your true emotions with modesty. I’d like to see them do the same.”

 

Another topic on Ryder’s list of issues to tackle was the role of the mass media in shaping public awareness and opinion on the issues he cares about.

 

“Look there’s people in the media

both periodicals and social

come at the movement like it’s theater.”

 

Towards the end of his performance, Ryder started connecting the global and national issues to the personal, which presented a special challenge for him as an author and performer.

 

“We as artists painting life as we interpret

my whole life all I’ve seen

is the door that’s been locked out to people of my family

and everyone else has the password or the key”

 

“This was so hard to make and not have it about race and I failed

How can I talk about Dr. King

Without making

This a status update for him?”

 

As it grew more personal, “A Call to Action” also sought to connect the inequalities of the past to those of the present, including the Ryder family history.

 

“I guess I’m sensitive because the media paints my movement like terrorists and kids throwing tantrums

I guess it’s maybe because when I look up pictures of my ancestors, the Ryders, and the Norrises I see them hanging from trees

but when I see the Smiths, they’re on horses.”

 

In closing, Ryder offered an homage to the departing President Obama, and expressed his hope for the future.

 

“And I will miss the greatest man to hold office

I will miss my first black president

I can’t wait to see the next one.”

 

After the debate about the assembly had died down, Ryder offered a challenge to the incoming president, whom he had attacked so directly in his poem.

“Honestly, Donald Trump, you want to make America great again, prove me wrong.” said Ryder. “Prove me wrong and I will say I’m sorry for ever doubting you.”

 

 

Full poem:

I Asked For 7 To 10 Minutes

Y’all Cut Me To 5 And Expect Me To Finish

Talk About Dr King

Tell Them About His Dream

The Idea He Once Had And Let Them Know

Well The Phone Is Ring Ing And Nobody Has Picked Up

Everybody Has Walked On By And We Accepted It

This Was The Version Y’all Didn’t Get

Because It Quote Unquote “Didn’t Fit”

You don’t know how long I’ve spent on this

Trying to make sure my language handed out stronger punches than any fist

But editing this

I couldn’t resist

For I’m trying to learn a craft

By re writing my past

And try not to spit it fast

i just don’t know how long my time will last

And getting famous is the only way I want to be put on death row

I don’t need this microphone

Everyone Knows My Bark Is Loud

And Can Be Heard All Around

For When I Start Roarin

Y’all Can See Me In Halloways Office At 8:45 In The Morning

Check It

He Told Me To Find My Time And Place

Be Christ Like

Strong Like Malcom

Elegant Like Martin

But I Was Taught And Raised To Be Like Huey P

Or The Next Fred Hampton

Some of Y’all Were Never Taught Because The School System Doesn’t Encourage Enemies Of The State

But Isnt It Fate?

That We Only Hear Of Peace From The Preacher

The Only One That The Teacher

Could Speak Of

Paint Him Innocent Like A White Dove

When Martin Luther King Had A Dream

The Alphabet Boys Had Their Own Scheme

Paint Him As A Liar

Try And Take His Life Like A Vampire

Because back then

You couldn’t have intelligent black men

He used a 3 syllable word arrest him

The media only watches the hood when it’s set on fire so kill us it under distress then

Back then they wore hoods and now they’ve undressed them

But if I address them

I’m ignorant and bigoted

but how can this be if even

MLK once stated

 

100 Years Later The Negro Still Is Not Free

54 Years Later We’re Still Not Free

Poverty And Minorities

Keeps Us Locked Up By The Authorities

Let me restate the 13th amendment the one that ended slavery

 

Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude, Except As A Punishment For Crime Whereof The Party Shall Have Been Duly Convicted, Shall Exist Within The United States, Or Any Place Subject To Their Jurisdiction.

 

Did You Catch That? Except Punishment For Crime

They Arrest People And Charge Them With A Fine

They Can’t Pay It And Make Them Do The Time

Then The Big Corporations Make More Dollars On A Clause That Shouldn’t Make Cents

Call Centers, Packaging And Agriculture

Jc Pennys’ Jeans, And Today We Can Really Learn What Victoria’s Secret Means

These Big Corporations Are The Modern Day Fiends

When Y’all Oppose Animal Testing They Make Inmates Wear The Face Creams

Ahh Can You Smell The American Dream

For It Seems To Me That They Push The Grounds To The Bottom As The Cream Rises To The Top

Jail Is Not Only Bad People Caught By The Good Cops

No jail has had a history of jailing good people for committing the worst crimes

promoting change

challenging the social norm

King went to jail

Fred hampton was shot in his bed next to his pregnant wife until he was dead

they said he resisted

Is that why they reloaded

But in no police report was that wrote in

Huey p newton

Knew then

That the government was after them

And got him addicted to crack

And shot him dead in the alley way out back

But when you look up

Martin’s police record

His FBI list what was his number

Google has been wiped clean

To make the government seem

Like they aren’t that bad

Like if they can’t remember it it didn’t happen like a drunk step dad

Aint nobody I’ve met thats been to jail has bragged

for thats where men go to die

I mean My uncles have seen the strongest men be put in drag

koolaid on their lips

and do i need to state what happens next

this is the generation

that has caused the previous the most frustrations

for sagging your pants doesn’t mean your hard

it was to symbolize that you are property that has been sold

and these are more than just stories that have been told

I don’t ever want to know what its like to put one hand on the glass

and the other holding a phone

with your family crying “I want to come home”

Jail is the system of oppression still instituted in America

while families go into debt to pay for bail

bonds that only let the subject fail

time after time again

 

Whats The Big Deal? Right

Why Is This Kid Making A Scene

It So Obscene He’s Defending Murders

Rapists

Cartel Members That Stay Nameless

You’re Right

Im Uptight

To Think That Isn’t Just, It Isn’t Right

Nah

Its The People That Can’t Afford Bail

The Kids That Got Picked Up

The Ones That The Justice System Failed

The Kids Charged With Jay Walking

Being Disrespectful When They’re Talking

The Kids That Couldn’t Afford

So They Lock That Door

And Kept Kalief Browder In Rikers Island For 3 Years Awaiting Trial

Beaten Everyday By Inmates And Prison Guards

No This Isn’t Rhyming Because Im Trying To Give You Guys The Truth

And This Life Isn’t Poetic

Its Un Just

If Y’all Wanted To Know He Was Acquitted Of All Charges And Crimes

He Committed Suicide A Week Later After Being Free, Was That His Time?

They Keep Innocent People Behind Bars

This Is An Epidemic Way Worse Than Cancer, Zika Or Even SARS

People Say That Racism Has Left, On This Country, A Nasty Scar

But It Grew Malignant, Deformed Our Pigment

For Place-Ism Has Set In Like The Saber-Tooth Tigers In The Tar pit

its like a stain you can’t get out of the carpet of the Oval Office

On top of this

We look at the top tech companies and think what they’re doing is really good

But in all actuality they’re gentrifying the hood

When the police roll on up

And arrest cats for just standing around in front of their house

This is why we say black lives matter

 

Riddle me this

How is it that Blacks make up 13.3 percent of the US population

And 30% of the fatalities by police shootings

Are black

Listen we as the 13% of the us

We as the 2.6% percent mixed race of the US

We as the 100% human beings that we are

Black lives matter is to get the violence down in our neighbor hoods

We’re not saying only black lives matter

And talk to any one of us

About the beating in Chicago of the disabled white man

And you’ll hear all of us have the same stand

They need to be put in jail

For life without parole until they die and goto hell

And that’s justified

Y’all already know how I feel about jail

And that’s the perfect place for them to go till their bodies get frail

 

Look there’s people in the media

both periodicals and social

come at The movement like its theater

We as artists painting life as we interpret

my whole life all I’ve seen

is the door thats been locked out to people of my family

and everyone else has the password or the key

i guess im sensitive because the media paints my movement like terroists and kids throwing tantrums

i guess its maybe because when i look up pictures of my ancestors, the ryders, and the norrises i see them hanging from trees

but when i see the smiths, they’re on horses

 

Like It Or Not We Are In A Country That Has Elected A President

The For the majority, He Doesn’t Resonate

It Doesn’t Matter We’re Stuck For 4 Years

Wipe Your Tears And Im Glad You’ve Awoken

For The People Have Spoken

And We Haven’t Lost Yet.

For The Next Four Years We Need To Be The Safety Net

Call Your Senator And Voice Your Frustrations

And Do Not Fall To Relaxation

Accepting This As The New Norm

Because It Is Not

A Reality Tv Star That Is Bigoted

And Friends With Russia

Is Not Normal

This Is Not A Joke

Those Who Didn’t Want This Or Couldn’t Vote

Call Your Representatives

Senators And Politicians

And Stay Woke

 

For This Was The Vision

Brighter Than Nuclear Fission

For All People

Black White African Dominican European

Asian Hispanic Whatever

Male Female Lgbtq

Whatever It Is Be You

We Need Reform

We Need Change

This Isnt A Game

Jail Is For Rehabilitation

Not Isolation

This was so hard to make and not have it about race and I failed

How can I talk about Dr King

Without making

This a status update for him and he is one dude I can’t wait to sit down and have a chat

Just remind me not to go on Snapchat

The night before another performance

For this part is fresher than altoid mints

And I will miss the greatest man to hold office

I will miss my First black president

I can’t wait to see the next one

I’m sorry for the some who’s feelings I just poked

But For Most Of You You Just Had Your Eyes Open

So Make Sure You Stay Woke

100 Years Later The Negro Still Is Not Free

54 Years Later We’re Still Not Free

Poverty And Minorities

Keeps Us Locked Up By The Authorities

Let me restate the 13th amendment the one that ended slavery

 

Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude, Except As A Punishment For Crime Whereof The Party Shall Have Been Duly Convicted, Shall Exist Within The United States, Or Any Place Subject To Their Jurisdiction.

 

Did You Catch That? Except Punishment For Crime

They Arrest People And Charge Them With A Fine

They Can’t Pay It And Make Them Do The Time

Then The Big Corporations Make More Dollars On A Clause That Shouldn’t Make Cents

Call Centers, Packaging And Agriculture

Jc Pennys’ Jeans, And Today We Can Really Learn What Victoria’s Secret Means

These Big Corporations Are The Modern Day Fiends

When Y’all Oppose Animal Testing They Make Inmates Wear The Face Creams

Ahh Can You Smell The American Dream

For It Seems To Me That They Push The Grounds To The Bottom As The Cream Rises To The Top

Jail Is Not Only Bad People Caught By The Good Cops

No jail has had a history of jailing good people for committing the worst crimes

promoting change

challenging the social norm

King went to jail

Fred hampton was shot in his bed next to his pregnant wife until he was dead

they said he resisted

Is that why they reloaded

But in no police report was that wrote in

Huey p newton

Knew then

That the government was after them

And got him addicted to crack

And shot him dead in the alley way out back

But when you look up

Martin’s police record

His FBI list what was his number

Google has been wiped clean

To make the government seem

Like they aren’t that bad

Like if they can’t remember it it didn’t happen like a drunk step dad

Aint nobody I’ve met thats been to jail has bragged

for thats where men go to die

I mean My uncles have seen the strongest men be put in drag

koolaid on their lips

and do i need to state what happens next

this is the generation

that has caused the previous the most frustrations

for sagging your pants doesn’t mean your hard

it was to symbolize that you are property that has been sold

and these are more than just stories that have been told

I don’t ever want to know what its like to put one hand on the glass

and the other holding a phone

with your family crying “I want to come home”

Jail is the system of oppression still instituted in America

while families go into debt to pay for bail

bonds that only let the subject fail

time after time again

 

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