I AM A AM, In the rhythm of a black man's heart.
In Memphis Tennessee 1968 two black men, Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed in a garbage compactor while taking shelter from the rain. These two sanitation workers, along with many others, were forced to work in harsh weather and inhumane conditions for below minimum wage. Their deaths lead to a march in honor of those who died in support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike and to address the racial injustices of the working class. Martin Luther King Jr. would join 1300 men on March 18, 1968 as they protested. These men, mostly older gentlemen in their 50’s or 60’s were regarded as children, paid “starvation wages,(MLK)” and in most cases, only hired due to their arrest records and low threat to unionizing. For this, the strike’s slogan became “I AM A MAN.” In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the world watched on May 25th 2020 as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin knelt on a black man, George Floyd's neck for approximately 9 and a half minutes to Floyd's death. With black deaths rising due to systematic racial police brutality, Floyd's death was a call to war. Riots and protests spread throughout the country and internationally. Chauvin was charged with 2nd and 3rd degree murder and second degree man slaughter. Chauvin’s trial began on March 9, 2021, almost 53 years to the date of the march in Memphis in 1968. With these parallel tragedies in mind and countless others that lead to no indictments, aquittles or no investigation at all, Chauvin’s trial and pending verdict seems predictable.
Decades beyond the civil rights movement and more than a century after slavery was abolished, black men struggle for the simple dignity to be seen as human. This anthology was written to pay homage to Cole, Walker and Floyd; martyrs for the same struggle. This collection of work is for those martyrs who never made the headlines and for whom justice did not prevail. These poems are our cries, anger and laughter in the rhythm of a black man’s heart today. Still, we want to be seen as men and given our inalienable right to breathe. Each poem speaks to the validity of our lives in its simplicity, yet totality and not the sum total of our transgressions. These poems give insight to our vulnerability that is tucked away daily to face a world that has never accepted our rich melanin, broad shoulders and resounding voices as intended by God. These words celebrate us in every perfect shade of brown we are covered in. Just as those brave men declared in the heat of oppression in 1968, I Ty Lewis declares today, “I AM A MAN.”