Martha note: Hilary White Holladay, who teaches African American Literature at James Madison University, had what I thought was a great idea. She suggested that the last two Civic Soapboxes of Black History Month feature two of her students reading poems that are meaningful to them. Here is poem #2, offered to honor all the contributions of persons of color to our nation's history.
The introduction is transcribed from a conversation I had with Thomas about his chosen poem. To listen to this conversation and to Thomas reading "Freedom Candy," click here.
I like it because in this book, How We Sleep on Nights We Don't Make Love, E. Ethelbert Miller created this character Omar. There's 6 consecutive poems about Omar. And this is the first one. And I read it. And I really liked the part where he said, "you know we should tell Mrs. Greenfield about herself since it's Black History Month." I was like, yeah!
I guess I was kinda like that person in school. Always rebellious. I read this poem and felt the energy from it.
I am close to being Omar. I laugh all the time. I could say I am Omar
|E. Ethelbert Miller|
by E.Ethelbert Miller
What kind of name is Omar
I asked this new boy at school.
You named after a candy bar or what?
You know you’re too light to be milk chocolate.
Omar looked at me and laughed.
Since that first smile, he’s my best friend.
Maybe my best friend ever.
Folks call us the Inseperables
Like one of those old singing groups my daddy is always talking about.
Omar’s a Muslim name, Omar tells me.
I think it sounds like a candy bar.
Like O’Henry. Baby Ruth. Mars. Or Almond Joy.
Maybe his mamma should have named him Snickers ’cause of the way he laughs.
Omar’s name sounds like candy.
And the way he acts is sweet to me.
Every teacher except Mrs. Greenfield thinks so.
Mrs. Greenfield, she don’t like Muslims.
And the rest of us she calls natural born sinners cause of the way we talk and behave.
Omar says, we should tell Mz. Greenfield about herself since it’s Black History Month.
So Omar stands up and says to Mrs. Greenfield,
How come you don’t lead us somewhere?
How come you’re not like Harriet Tubman?.
Why no field trips? Why no trips to the museum or zoo?
Why we never go nowhere?
Mrs. Greenfield, she don’t say nothing.
She just looks at Omar as if he is the last Muslim on earth and is about to die.
I think about how Omar says, Muslims pray five times a day.
And how cats have nine lives.
And just maybe Omar might make it to three o’clock.
Or maybe he won’t.
Suddenly Mrs. Greenfield has one of those fainting spells
Like old Moses Tubman.
She has to sit down behind her desk,
So she tells me to go get her some water.
I feel free as I race down the hall,
Wondering how Omar can be sweet sometime,
And get on everyone’s nerve the next.
My daddy once told me M & M’s melt in your mouth
And your hands.
Especially if you’re colored.
Wait until I tell Omar.
--Thomas Estes is from Washington D.C. He’s a junior, studying English, at James Madison University.