Akwi Nji: This America, Now

What I mean to say is:

What do I tell my children?

Raise your hand. Ask questions. But not too many.

You must also know when to remain quiet.

Be kind. Answer questions. Show them you are smart.

Because we cannot afford a misstep,

a mistake,

a mistaken identity.

Mistaken for a child who is

mouthy, rather than inquisitive.

Lazy, rather than bored

with what she already knows.

What I mean to say is:

I am afraid for my children.

Not in the way we are afraid for them

when they cross the street or climb trees

or break skin.

The truth is,

though I pretend I am not good at math,

and they believe me,

I know about numbers.

I know about the numbers which suggest,

any way I look at them,

that the cards are stacked against

my daughters.

What I mean to say is:

I am my daughters’ only keeper.

That they are, at least now, within my reach—

my mother superwoman reach—

and they are guarded by my cape.

that I am a spy in enemy’s territory,

and I am vigilant.

What I mean to say is:

I fear when she—either one—is grown, maybe 19 or 20,

in college somewhere big

and just out of my reach,

she could easily be mistaken for

a threat

a Sandra Bland

a Kindra Chapman

a Freddie Gray

a Tamir Rice

a Michael Brown

a threat.

Freeze! Hands up!

Will she know to obey? Or will she argue, not knowing,

or maybe

just forgetting, in the moment,

what I taught her about raising her hand.

I fear that being vigilant will not be enough,

because before Sandra Bland there was Tanisha Anderson.

And before her, there was Aiyanna Jones.

And before her, there was Addie Mae Collins

and the Baptist church bombings.

And they had mothers who watched over them, too.

We release our daughters

into the hungry mouths of angry men

when we release them into this world.

This, too, is our lineage.

The red-washed sidewalk;

the cape that becomes a pall draped over another casket;

the mother, a crumpled witness;

the child, another star-spangled body,

who forgot when to raise a hand

and when to remain silent.

Akwi Nji


Akwi Nji’s spoken word and performance poetry is both deeply personal and strikingly universal. Akwi’s writing has been featured in Little Village and Collective Soundwaves. She performs regionally, most notably at Chicago’s Green Mill and as a supporting act for Saul Williams at Mission Creek Festival 2016. She is also the featured performer for SPT Theatre’s biannual NewBo PoJam. As Founder and Executive Director of The Hook, Akwi produces Drop the Mic, ArtLOUD!, #WeAre, and The Living Room Series. She is a 2016 Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellow.



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