I am so excited to share the work of my friend and colleague, Octavia McBride-Ahebee, whose new poetry collection, Praise Song for the Gravediggers, was recently published. The following poems, Playing Dead for the Summer and a poem for gabby, which both appear in the collection, are presented here because these focus on students and as educators, which Octavia and I are, the well-being of our students is of paramount concern to us.
Octavia shared the following commentary about the genesis of these 2 poems.
“As a lower elementary teacher, I work with young students. Often adults underestimate the huge and insidious toll the deteriorating social and political climate exacts on our children.
The 1st poem, Playing Dead for the Summer, was written right after the Charleston Massacre of June 17, 2015. When my 3rd grade students were sharing their summer plans, one student said she would play dead for the summer as to avoid being the target of violence. She was shaken to her core by the fact that there were children in that church who were targeted who looked like her. She was equally disturbed too by the fact that she and her peers had just completed a project around the theme of resistance and Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner were covered in that unit of study.
The 2nd poem, a poem for gabby, honors an event that uplifted my being. When Gabby Douglas first appeared on national television and wowed the world with her talent, the next school morning, students at my school, primarily African-Americans, were doing all kinds of interpretative Gabby moves in the schoolyard. I was stirred by the positive impression Douglas had left on them; the kind of young people who are often neglected and dismissed. That morning they were soaring, for a brief moment, on a trajectory that push them high.
(The photograph of "Girl in Water" is by Ruud Van Empel. The drawing that accompanies "a poem for gabby" is by Burnett)