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A woman holds a sign for Antwon Rose at a rally to protest the fatal shooting of Rose at the Allegheny County Courthouse o...

Antwon Rose’s mother wants everybody to hear this poem

A 2016 poem emerged soon after 17-year-old Antwon Rose was shot and killed by a police officer in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, more than two weeks ago.

Titled “I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!”, the poem was written by the teen for his 10th grade honors English class. The assignment was to write an “I am” poem about a topic or issue that pushed the students to take stock of the world around them. Rose wrote a poem that captured what it meant to be black in America, three times repeating the phrase, “I am confused and afraid.”

Rose’s words were intoned at his funeral last week, also appearing on the program, and read aloud by peaceful demonstrators at protests over his death.


by Antwon Rose

I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there’s only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
I am confused and afraid

I pretend all is fine
I feel like I’m suffocating
I touch nothing so I believe all is fine
I worry that it isn’t, though
I cry no more
I am confused and afraid

I understand people believe I’m just a statistic
I say to them I’m different
I dream of life getting easier
I try my best to make my dream true
I hope that it does
I am confused and afraid

Rose’s teacher, Laura Arthrell, 61, said she found the poem archived on an electronic grade book. Next to his name was a blue box that showed he submitted his assignment online — it was because he had turned it in late that she had actually been able to find it years later.

“I opened it up, and there it was looking at me,” Arthrell told the PBS NewsHour, adding that there was a well of feelings over the discovery.

“I don’t want to say it’s prophetic, but it is,” she added. “If you knew this kid, he was a really nice kid. It’s such a loss,” she said. He always had a big smile on his face.

“I understand people believe I am just a statistic / I say to them I am different,” Rose wrote. Later, he addresses the toll police violence has on black mothers: “I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never feel that pain,” he wrote. On the June 19 deadly encounter with a white officer, Rose was shot three times.

Arthrell alerted the school district’s assistant superintendent of the Rose’s poem and asked to get in touch with his family. After getting the address, Arthrell printed up 10 copies and headed out for the Allegheny County home.

There, she read the poem to Rose’s family, including his mother, Michelle Kenney.

“She cried so hard,” Arthrell recalls of that moment. She remembers the mother saying, “He’s talking to us.”

Arthrell said Rose’s mother wanted everybody to hear the poem. He may have been speaking for himself, Arthrell said, but he was also writing for a lot of the kids that were growing up around him.

READ MORE: What we know about the police shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr.