2024 MLK Poetry & Storytelling Festival
On January 14th, our community gathered for a memorable evening at the MLK Poetry & Storytelling Festival, centered around the theme “A Call for Peace: A Time to Break Silence.” The event featured a lineup of distinguished poets, each contributing their unique voice to the celebration.
1. Jesse Waters:
Award-winning poet and Director of the Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College. Although unable to attend in person, his impactful poem, read by past intern Kennedy Holt, resonated with the audience.
2. Hagir Elsheikh:
An inspiring entrepreneur and registered nurse who overcame adversity after fleeing political turmoil in Sudan. Her words painted a vivid picture of resilience, strength, and the pursuit of peace.
3. Rick Kearns:
Poet Laureate of Harrisburg, Rick delved into his Puerto Rican heritage and Taino ancestry through poetry. His verses beautifully echoed themes of cultural identity and the universal call for harmony.
4. Rev. Nathaniel Gadsen:
Former Harrisburg Poet Laureate, Life Skills Coach, Poet, Poet Therapist, Minister, and Motivational Speaker. Reverend Gadsen’s words transcended the boundaries of poetry, offering guidance and motivation for a peaceful and just world.
5. Maria James Thiaw:
A distinguished poet, educator, and author of “Count Each Breath,” Maria is also a professor at Southern New Hampshire University. Her evocative storytelling encouraged us to look back at the past and forward to a better future.
While each poet brought their unique perspective to the stage, the common thread was the call for peace and the power of words to break silence. Their verses painted a collective portrait of hope, resilience, and the unwavering belief in the possibility of a more just and harmonious world.
The Next Generation
In addition to our esteemed poets, we were thrilled to witness the incredible talent of our Youth Writing Competition winners. This year, we received an unprecedented number of entries—24 submissions from four local high schools. The enthusiasm and creativity displayed by these young minds were truly inspiring.
Untitled The feeling of being left out Always being told to wait Having the feeling of doubt People think it’s ok to hate Discrimination so unkind Time to stand our ground Some left behind Done being bound Time to escape Time takes the reign All at stake No more pain
“The World Wanted And The World Known” Within the echoing silence of tomorrow there is a call to action, but not to fight. A call to action to end all strife, to respect all life, and not diminish the light. We can create a world where the young can grow old and the old can feel young. Not a world where I swung, you swung but a world where we came together and the bells of peace rung. A time to break the silence, accept change, fight hate, and stop the violence. We are being controlled by fear, the devil whispering in our right and left ear. But through that whisper is a shout, to take on the mission, spread the vision, and then teach your children to continue and carry it out. All it takes is change, change that’s within the range, of your grasp, don’t forget the past, but stand where you are look ahead, but move fast. Because the worlds waiting, but it won’t wait forever!
Don't Wait Just wait. Just wait. Just wait Over and over just wait just wait. Disregarding all, segregation, violence Said peace will be brought but oh it still stayed. Just wait. Just wait. Just wait. He knew there was no more waiting now though It’s what needs to be done Speak out. Speak out. Speak out. For the peace. He knew peace must be over this land, make them understand. Speak out. Speak out. Speak out. He was met with force, but just kept speaking. His words were loud, strong, and proud. He showed them thoughts,feelings, and guided them for its time. Speak out. Speak out. Speak out. That’s what they did, now. It took time, but They broke the silence. Loud and proud they stayed speaking. Till the pain was gone, and peace was there Just wait. Just wait. Just wait. They were told along. But he knew there was only one way. Speak out. Speak out. Speak out
A nation built on Independence and Self-Determination. A bastion of Peace and Democracy. A nation united against immoral ideals. A nation built upon a rotten core. A nation built on lies. A nation fueled by the suffering and servitude of those in far away lands. A nation silent, and for what? A single penny from the poor into the pockets of those with plenty. A nation silencing others, and for what? A single penny from the poor into the pockets of those with plenty. A bastion of peace inciting war, and for what? A single penny from the poor into the pockets of those with plenty. A nation that grew by reaping the benefits of inflicting harm and suffering upon those who they deemed lesser. A nation that denounced that hating, declaring all people equal. A nation that is still growing on its original ideals. A nation that sells out its own strength of mind and might, and for what? A single penny from the poor into the pockets of those with plenty. A penny from the starving stolen to sit alone forever surrounded by steel. Never touched, never seen, never noticed, never cared for, just as the penny. Never loved, never fed, never represented, never helped, and why? Because they were exploited by the rich, used to syphon the wealth from those without immense wealth. Work brought away from the land of the proud. Labour bought with pennies, sold for bars. Children risking life and limb to help put a slice of bread on the table. A nation that denounced the use of child labour selling away its strength of material and moral for a tainted penny. A nation founded on the principle that all are created equal, funding the extermination of innocent lives merely born into a bad place. A nation doing this, not for its poor but for its rich. The rich who already possess enough to live a thousand lifetimes, the rich who care not for the people. The rich who are praised by the poor for their “hard work” to earn their fortunes, despite it coming from a time before they lived. Without care they find and they drill. They take and they give not a gift. Without care they spend ludicrous amounts on their own leisure, as many pray and prey for their next meal. They raise prices, saying “we don’t wish it but we must” while records break profit. They raise prices, saying “it's for the workers” while cutting employment. They raise these prices with naught but greed in their eyes. They take good, and sell it for gold. They take the peace of nations, and shatter it for their own goals. They take the lives of the innocent and use them as pawns in their boards of war. Then there is the matter of the poor folk stuck in the street. Our fellow humans down on their luck in need of aid, begging for aid. Their pleas fall on deaf ears as we continue to ignore our fellow man in need of aid, conversely listening to calls of the rich. Budgets focus not on aiding these unfortunate souls, the cheapest choice in my opinion, but instead on torturing them, ruining everyone's life in the process. But what they do not wish is to see us together. Together our voice can sound louder than the half truths and false promises. Together our voice can save those in need. Together we can bring about the change we need to improve the world, but only together. It is through the strength of our unity and the strength of our diversity that we can bring about this change. Should we remain divided, we shall see no progress. Our voices divided are quiet, but united are strong and clear. Together we have more power than their greed can possess, but divided we have no strength. The greatest strength of humanity is the power we can achieve when we work together. And so, we must work together to solve this problem. Together we can bring light to the lives of those in need, and prevent more from suffering that fate. Together we can change the world forever.
As the Clock Struck for Peace Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Has the time come yet? Has the wind changed? *********** I took a moment to listen to the aggressive thump of the raindrops on our brick house’s roof. We lived in a simple house but the memories it held were immensely abundant. As I sat by the auburn fire, I took note of the serenity of my home. The safety it held assured me that there was no fear here to speak my full truth. However, simply the notion that the only safety I could observe was in the shelter of my own home began to make me wonder. I wondered about our world– the lack of respect and courtesy we received. Was it the magnificent melanin of our skin or the culture of our lives? Was it how the language we spoke simultaneously carried such passion and agency, or how our effortless movement in dance spoke meaningful paragraphs? Our music, cuisine, history, and connectivity. All aspects that made us, us. However, this revelation was no new one for me. See, once, when I was a young girl, I had been running around the yard with my closest friends while the neighborhood Aunties observed us to keep us safe. As we skipped around and tossed the discolored beach ball we recently discovered in the garage, Edmond Jr., who had been trying to show off his new-fangled kickball skills, punted the beachball to the neighboring community’s communal playing field. In a matter of seconds, the ball was gone. But that was no ordinary neighborhood– that was the white-only neighborhood. Many myths passed around throughout our youth regarding the dangers and rules of that forbidden area. “If they took your ball, it was theirs now. If they want to use our space, it is to become their home. And if you are ever told off by anyone from there, you are to walk right back to Ma.” This recitation of rules began to bore me as a child, but I always knew never to stray from it. It was recited for a reason. However, the most important lesson I learned was this phrase: “What is ours, is theirs. But what is theirs, is not ours.” It was amusing for me to look back on that experience. Although, I soon realized that it was not specific to only me. Yet, the story now shifted slightly. Because I recognized that they not only stole our toys and field for playing; they stole our voices. As a young girl, I never understood why it was like this. With full honesty, I still do not have a firm grasp on this. But, my lack of understanding is different now from when I was six. Now, it stood to describe my unacceptance of it. “We deserve more,” I thought, “and we will get more.” *********** Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I suddenly paused in my train of thought. The heat of the fire unexpectedly became extremely warm, and I had no intention of my face turning pink from the heat. My mamaw said that always happened to me. As I ushered myself over to our kitchen table, the family radio, which was stationed in the middle of our grand old oak table, came to my attention. Ma and Pa went out that day, and Georgie was out with Little Reggie from across the street. It was just me and the radio, and nothing was stopping me from messing around just a little. We kids weren't allowed to touch the radio, but, a little fun never hurt no’one, now did it? I twisted the knob on the radio multiple times, in many different ways. However, this may not have been the smartest move. As it was at that moment that the knob fell off and a random channel on the radio began to blare a large, booming voice. It sounded like a man. The man may have been random to me, but the message he carried was not so much. The single phrase “I have a dream” continued to play over and over again on the radio. Other than the fact that this now told me that I had broken our radio, I soon learned another thing as well: We all have a dream. A dream to be equal and a dream to be loud. A dream to be successful and a dream to be proud. *********** Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. DING. It is almost as if every gentle movement of the hands on the clock signified a passing time– a passing opportunity. I soon realized that the so-called “gentle” movement was not so gentle, but was truly ever so deep in meaning. However, the echo of the ding now signified something else. It meant that it was time. It was finally the time for my community of powerful black men, women, and children and I to speak up against it all. To be treated as a free dove was always a dream of my youth. Yet the oppressive cage left us encapsulated, restricted. Suffocated. For, it was this mistreatment which silenced us and left us numb. With the power we held, we were suppressed. Although, our voices were never weak; we never lost the strength to keep ourselves strong in the restless storm of injustice. But as I looked up at the clock I knew that it was time. No more waiting, and no more inequality. It was now time for peace, and I could hear it calling my name.
Are You Listening I am a Black person A POC...A negro....A creature A figment of your imagination Whatever you want all that matters is that your listening So tell me...are you listening? We're sat in classrooms Taught the hardships of our ancestors watered down and filtered for the benefit of our society But we can't- We won’t admit that Our societies quick to advocate cover up there tracks We hear slang in the streets The blackcents and the black fishers The stereotypical culture that societies quick to appropriate I know your hearing me but are you listening... We've worn out words on our shirt but you weren't listening You're taught black history, But are you listening? You're played black music, But are you listening? You're read black writing, But are you listening? You're even shown black art, but are you listening We express ourselves to show are pain not for society to take it and exploit us for its personal gain Society can't handle the truth, And you know better than to say america's name in vain This is bigger than just a race thing...bigger than politics This Bigger than appropriation....bigger than a complaint This is bigger then a community enraged But you aren't listening Your throwing up fists and advocating in front of a lens...But go no further then that We’ve been Handed the short end of the stick The shortest month The shortest time to shine The shortest attention span of society This is bigger than a protest This is bigger than a movement This is bigger than racial prejudice This is bigger than celebrating minorities And your saying your listening Your hearing what I'm saying But you aren't listening... Are you?