A Nation Engaged: Fireworks

Oct 14, 2016


America is changing.

Non-white kids now make up a majority of kindergartners. By the next presidential election, the Census Bureau predicts the majority of all children will be children of color.

And by 2044, no one racial group will be a majority in the country.

This cross-current of demographic and cultural change is upending traditional voting patterns and straining the fabric of what it means to be American.

Throughout this election season, NPR and its member stations have been having a collective national conversation called “A Nation Engaged.”  The project has looked at central themes in this year’s election, including this week’s question:

What does it mean to be American?

For our contribution to the project, we put this question to some promising young spoken word artists.

Today's artist is Genera Fields, an 18-year-old from Ann Arbor. Her poem is entitled Fireworks.

Fireworks, by Genera Fields

Screams of fireworks explode in my eardrums each July 4th

An ode to the nation we were enslaved to

A nationwide celebration


I am accustomed to the whoops

the "aww"s

"Wow"s and "Damn"s

The clinking of beer cans as I spin

Red white and blue tutu whirling around and around

My siblings giggling at my feet


but this year


this year I do not see ruby sparks combust and collapse to the ground

I see dark and matted blood flood thick on hot pavement that dries Mike Brown


This year I do not hear fireworks 

I hear gunshots




carving into skins of second class citizens


Bang after crash after gasp

This year

I wonder if I’ll see another year


I burrow my face into the pillow, wrap myself in blankets like bullet proof glass

try to convulse less with each crack


Breathe deep

It is just



America is the best country in the world

We have The Nukes

41% of the earth’s wealth

25% of its incarceration


We triumph


I tell myself “American” is a name of which I’m proud every time I leave my house without



I am not the burned Syrian child in an ambulance

Though America is responsible for children like him in Iraq


I am not at risk of death by drone

Though America is notorious for strikes in the middle east


I am not one of the nameless innocents taken in daily suicide bombings

Though America makes sure to pack my ears with cotton


I tell myself “American” is not synonymous with “Murder”

“American” is not synonymous with “lies”

“American” is not synonymous with “hate”


Until the day Alton Sterling slams into the pavement

And the officer’s knee hits his back

And the same crack I’ve been hiding from whips through the audio with a screech


It is the first time I watch someone get killed

It is the last time I will ever feel safe in my blankets


Red, White, and Blue cascade through the darkness And I scream louder than the ricochets

I begin to understand why people burn the flag

African American is a death sentence

But American is the title I do not want to have


Land of the free-if-you’re-White

Home of the brave-if-you-kill


I lock both doors three times

Drop to the ground with each crack

Each shot

Each acquittal

Each paid leave




The laughter morphs into shrieks of the deceased





Mouth opened but no sound





I fall asleep in the hallway because it’s the only place without windows




Philando Castile gets three cracks by the time I check my phone the next evening

Looking at the two of us, it’s hard to tell whose eyes are more alive


I do not know if “American” is synonymous with “Murderer”

But I do know that I have never seen America without lies

Or hate


But this year “African-American” is synonymous with “target practice”

“African-American” is synonymous with “Pain”

“African-American” is synonymous with “locked doors”


and death

and blood

and broken families


I am afraid of Fireworks 

Genera Fields is a writer and recent graduate of Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.  Now, she's focusing on her writing and taking a creative writing class at Washtenaw Community College.

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