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The Black Man’s Valhalla

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They say to give people flowers while they can still smell them. Unfortunately, the saying reminds us that we often fail to do so and live to regret it. Mr. Washington was my neighbor growing up. He was a quiet man with a powerful presence. I would often eavesdrop on the conversations he would have with my father and sat in amazement as he recounted stories of his life.

The most intriguing stories were about his childhood. His father had spirited his family from a life sharecropping in the South and moved the family North. He talked about racism and segregation from his raw perspective as an eyewitness, a primary source, an authority. He possessed a sincerity that left an impression. As he regaled us with his tales, I began to realize that history was a living thing. This wasn’t a textbook. This was a real person. I saw history in his face, I heard it in his words, I sensed it in his laugh.

As a sophomore in high school, I decided to enter the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO). I chose to submit a poem as I fancied myself a poet. However, I was a poet without a poem, and as the deadline for submission drew closer, I began to worry. I needed some inspiration and thought back to Mr. Washington. I wanted to write something that would immortalize the things that I had heard. I wanted to honor him.

What resulted I called, “The Black Man’s Valhalla,” which you can read below. The concept of Valhalla, the great hall in Norse mythology where dead warriors are honored, appealed to me as a reward for all those in history that suffered to allow me to be free. Hence, it was written as a rather unorthodox free verse poem. 

As I delivered this poem in front of the judges, a sense of peace and of power ran through me. The words flowed effortlessly from my tongue. There was a conviction in my delivery that had been absent before. I won the local competition.

Sadly, Mr. Washington never heard my poem, much less learn that he was the inspiration behind it. It is still one my greatest regrets. That’s why Black History Month is “More than a Month” to me. It’s a feeling and deep understanding that there is a duty to share. I strive to be an inspiration to each of my students the way Mr. Washington was for me, and to share with them and allow them to share. Developing that value empathy and cultural sensitivity in students has been my goal since I began teaching. Even though Mr. Washington can’t smell them, I’m going to plant his flowers all over the world. 

The Black Man's Valhalla

There is a place,

The old ones say,

Just past tomorrow,

Through yesterday,

Where the spirits of those whose blood was made to brick,

Bone to mortar,

Are laid to rest.

A place where those who fought for a freedom they never attained,

Smile down on us.

Where Malcolm and Martin sup together

and Harriet Tubman leads the same slaves out of bondage.

Where WEB Dubois and Booker T.

Still bicker over which is the one right philosophy.

This is the place where the valiant come and are honored

Forevermore.

Recognized for the crosses they so graciously carried in the name of freedom.

This is the Negro's Heaven.

Their place fo rest,

Where Masters are but a fantasy,

Cotton fields a lifetime away.

This is the Ebony Paradise.

The Doorway to inner peace where Lynch mobs are gone forever,

Slavery,

Of the mind,

Of the body,

Of the soul,

Is forever abolished.

For this is the Brother's Reward.

A place where character is the sole basis on which you are judged,

And paper is not needed to state if you are bond or free.

This is the final resting place for all who laid down their lives,

Making a blood signed pact that they would not forsake this most sacred assembly.

Negro's Heaven,

Ebony Paradise,

Brother's Reward,

Black Man's Valhalla.

The places the spirit goes after the old slave graveyards are cleared,

The dead truly at peace.

Negro's Heaven,

Ebony Paradise,

Brother's Reward,

Black Man's Valhalla.

The Eternal Motherland seeking to recapture her lost Children,

Negro's Heaven,

Ebony Paradise,

Brother's Reward.

All the soldiers,

Warriors,

Preachers,

And Teachers.

All the Boycotters,

Slaves,

Those murdered,

Sharecroppers,

Revolutionaries,

Thinkers and inventors,

And all those plain folk too,

Will enter into

The Black Man's Valhalla.

Mike Lang II

Mike Lang II Elementary Educator

Mike Lang II is the Technology Strategist/Instructor at Dearing Elementary School in Las Vegas, NV. He has the honor of being an Apple Distinguished Educator and PBS Digital Innovator All-Star. 

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