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A Nation Engaged: Fireworks

Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Genera Fields


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 Sharp Swift 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 fear 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 dying 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 Bang Crack The laughter morphs into shrieks of the deceased Bang Crack Mouth opened but no sound Bang Crack I fall asleep in the hallway because it’s the only place without windows Bang 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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