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Poetry Friday: Discovering Juneteenth

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On June 19th, 1865, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the news finally reached Texas, where slavery was still being practiced. Federal troops took control of the state and enforced the Proclamation, telling former slaves they were free and had been for years. That day became known as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day. It is widely celebrated in teh U.S., often including readings of Maya Angelou's poetry. In this week's segment of Poetry Friday, KNAU listener Amber Jones celebrates her first Juneteenth and her bi-racial heritage with a reading of Angelou's Still I Rise.

AJ: I actually didn’t know anything about it until this year. After having kids I felt really motivated to explore that part of my heritage and that part of my culture. So, I did a lot of research this year and really dug into what Juneteenth is. I’m bi-racial, and half of my family is African American. So, it was a little difficult because I had two cultures to blend together. My mother, who is white, I spent a lot of time with her family, but I didn’t get a lot of my father’s side of the family. So, it was very motivating for me to actually explore that side because it’s been so long since I have. And I found out an aunt of mine who I was really close to who passed away 10 years ago from cancer, used to go to these celebrations every year. So, it’s kind of a way - I’m volunteering at the celebrations this year – as a way to kind of feel closer to her and honor her spirit.

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Credit Amber Jones
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KNAU listener Amber Jones with her father, Karl, grandmother, Rosemary, grandfather, Earl and daughter, Maya, named after the poet Maya Angelou

Oh, Maya Angelou! She’s by far my favorite writer, author, poet. It was very difficult growing up as a woman of color, so having her story and her words to gain strength from was very important to me. Again, it’s another way for me to connect to that side of my history.

I’ve chosen Still I Rise. I chose it because it’s incredibly powerful, and when days look dark, and heavy, and things just don’t seem to be going the way they should, I read this poem. I gain so much strength and feel that I can continue to carry on and really celebrate who I am.

Still I Rise

BY MAYA ANGELOU

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

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Credit Amber Jones
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KNAU listener Amber Jones with her husband, Ben, and daughters, Ada (R) and Maya (L)

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave

I rise

I rise

I rise

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.

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