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Poet delivers a challenge: ‘change is not made by cowards’

Listen to Jonathan B. Tucker recite his poem “Live United” at the 2015 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis. Read the text of the poem below.

Live United

the challenge is in front of us

speaking loudly on a cross-town bus
heart beats go-go percussion, she

dance away from any discussion involving school work

the two words she most loathes

grades aren’t as important as gossip and clothes

she knows life is not fair

this student from Southeast Anytown, Anywhere cannot spell HOPE

she cannot read

the Army recruiter’s poster

but she bleeds red, white, and you-don’t-know-how-hard-it-is

to ask for help

when all your life your pride has taught you that you should be able to do it yourself


add versity and unity, you get university

subtract the city, and the universe is yours

always expanding, life demanding

a United Way to overcome adversity

multiply history and herstory

you get OURstory

with all its misery and pain

all our pride and our shame

all of our progress and change

take this story and use it to believe, my friend

tell it to your kids and use these example to prove that you too can and will achieve again

working as a team

with diverse partnerships that will help us raise graduation rates up to 80% by 2018

this is not a dream

this is a measurable outcome from working with teens

an attainable goal even though far it seems

for long is the arc, but it bends toward justice

and for too long students like her were treated as just kids

not whole people

lacking rights and respect

there’s nothing equal about capitalism, classism, adultism, racism, sexism

it’s all about power

don’t be scared to call it what it is

change is not made by cowards

it’s brought about by risk-takers and movement-makers

putting in over 19 million volunteer hours

it comes incrementally and shared

so her change is ours

and we he dares to speak up

we can hear bars breaking down and

new opportunities opening up like flowers reaching for the sky

and you’re the water

helping this wilted guy grow no matter what soil he comes from

no matter what adversity

you will overcome son

and become one engaged in the community

get down on one knee, say “I do” and marry this movement

it’s a new campaign and we’re making it real

not just raising money, we’re raising a spirit you can feel

and it’s a must

that we raise our voices to face this challenge

and shake off the dust

so that we can work together

and live united

Jonathan B. Tucker is the Youth Programs Coordinator for Split This Rock, a national nonprofit organization devoted to provoking social justice through poetry. There, he coaches the D.C. Youth Slam Team. Tucker represented Washington, D.C., at the National Poetry Slam in 2009 and 2010, and won the Community Orientated Underground Poet award in 2010 and 2011 at the National Underground Spokenword Poetry Awards. Tucker is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships from the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. He has performed and taught at universities, libraries, detention centers and museums, nationally and internationally, and his poetry has appeared in Howard University’s Amistad Journal, Voice of the Future and Poets’ America.

This video was filmed at the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

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