Children of the City Invincible

by Brooke Miller, Cornell University, May 20, 2008

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“ ‘In a dream I saw a city invincible’ ”

But invincible they are no more.

Outside the sign says: “ ‘The American Dream is Alive and Well at EastSide High’ ”

But what’s in a dream if empty promises and savage inequalities are routine.

What gives you the strength to press on?

Dirty buildings, crowded rooms, the smell of glue, science labs minus the lab
How can I learn like this?
“Watch the ripple effect,” she says “ ‘and describe the phenomena;’ ” all I see are splashes of water against a clear plastic cocktail glass.
I wish I was anywhere but here.

They say they can’t give us money because not enough of us pass the test.
How can I do that when my classroom is a pantry and my textbook is missing chapter headings?
I say we don’t have what we need to make it.

Welcome to the land of opportunity, from sea to shining sea.
I tell you my dreams and you laugh at me.
Hopes thrown against brick walls will bleed.
I bleed red blood, the same as you.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but your eyes can burn a hole right through me.
I know what you’re thinking but don’t judge me, you don’t even know me.
I’ve been judged my whole life.
I have dreams of being a lawyer, I tell you and you laugh in my face
You say my “ ‘English isn’t good;’ ” you tell me to look for an “ ‘easier job.’ ”
Aren’t you supposed to be my counselor, the one I turn too? Why would you say that?

Crowded spaces, more and more missing faces
When I started freshman year I had 600 classmates, now I maybe have 300.
I am only a junior.
The better school district is five minutes away, why can’t they help us?
Is it because they’re selfish, because they don’t think money will help?
It has helped them…don’t we matter?

They say it’s our values.
They say it’s our parents.
They say it’s our neighborhood.
They blame them. I blame you.

They say you shouldn’t walk through my neighborhood alone
I can hear you, you know.
“ ‘It rains on my city, but I see rainbows in the puddles,’ ”
Beauty surrounded by ugliness.
Do you think I chose to live here? I was placed here, I did not ask for this.

Welcome to the land of opportunity, from sea to shining sea.
I tell you my dreams and you laugh at me.
Hopes thrown against brick walls will bleed.
I bleed red blood, the same as you.

I can look across the Delaware River and see the life and light that is Philadelphia.
We are connected by bridges called the Walt Whitman and the Ben Franklin.
What would these men say if they saw how we live?
From Philadelphia you can look across the Delaware River but all you’ll see is darkness.
“ ‘The world is leaving us behind in Camden.’ ”

Segregation.
They side with Plessey v. Ferguson; modern day Jim Crow.
Separate-most definitely, but equal-never
Why do I look around and all I see is brown skin?
You can not take my pride from me regardless. I will not let you.
I will hold my head high everyday. You have not broken me yet.

They say one rotten apple spoils a whole generation but what are we supposed to do with them?
Are we supposed to cast them out like Joe Clark did?
Do you know where those “rotten apples” are now?
They reside in Passaic County Jail.
Look at what you have done to them. I am sure they thank you.

Welcome to the land of opportunity, from sea to shining sea.
I tell you my dreams and you laugh at me.
Hopes thrown against brick walls will bleed.
I bleed red blood, the same as you.

Children invisible, no longer invincible, no longer believe the power lies in their minds.
How can you abandon us?
Can you sleep at night knowing you let this happen?
If the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, you should be worried.
I am.

1 Quoted statements ( ‘ “ ’ ”) throughout the poem were directly taken from Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. The entire poem and its title were inspired by the book.

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