Alabama Racism Taught Me To Rechannel My Energies

Alabama Racism Taught Me To Rechannel My Energies

- in Nuwla Social Issues

Alabama Racism Taught Me To Rechannel My Energies

Discovering that your thoughts are different from those around you, can cause you to become silent.  You learn to “selectively choose” the people you express your views, and opinions with. In rural-Alabama, this mindset once saved your life. The unique setting on earth, produced survival skills, for recognizing those who meant you harm. This “antenna” allowed you to know when to take a subordinate position, in the presence of certain types of men. Our parents helped encourage and teach this behavior, by becoming “animated and minstrel-like,” to show us what was required, in our behavior and conversation. This act didn’t just demonstrate to us, it showed the “person of higher-ranking”, they were (in effect), being bowed to. You’ve seen military men do this, to officers as they pass by. We were taught to go into this dance by our parents because they knew that understanding it, could keep us alive.

This unspoken caste system (and its rules), was one of the reasons my father left the south. Although its rivers were surrounded by breath-taking beauty, it gave you a false-truth. This scene of greenery, abundant food, and fresh air, defied the fact, that a wrong turn down a dirt road, could make life painfully, or even abruptly clear. From cobblestone streets lined with “Whites-Only” signs to George Wallace’s speech, “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow and Segregation forever”. We knew the rules, and who made them. Alabama racism taught me that mansions, and streets lined with crape-myrtle trees, were for people who arrived from European parts of the world. Those of us, who were descended from aboriginal-roots were sentenced to being third-class citizens, on land our Olmec and Chickasaw ancestors owned, for generations. This mesmerizing setting, where the Black-Warrior River, and cities called Tuscaloosa sat, helped frame my political beliefs, and my spirit.

Alabama Racism taught me to rechannel my energies. My child’s voice being too young to protest, I learned I could write my frustration, and thoughts on paper. Whether it was discrimination, or the workings of the judicial system, a diet of poets like Richard Wright, and Nikki Giovanni, gave my mind a vehicle and direction to follow. Stokley Carmichael, Nelson Mandela, and Thurgood Marshall represented a testing of the power-structures own words. This ability to shape the narrative has rarely been heard from oppressed people. Women like Maya Angela, Sonya Sanchez, and Angela Davis, became role-models, and griots of truth. Words became a way of “modifying” the dance; and reshaping it, in our image. We can offer them back, in the form of poetry, describing wounds that never healed, words that salute our survival, and as voices crying out from the inner-city.

Being alive means that you can live to fight another day. Being awake, means (for some of us), that you have a responsibility to tell your ancestors story. Whether that truth is framed in stories or poetry, these expressions become therapy and an outlet that you must offer, from your view of the world. Whether you come into your understanding with a gift or become equipped in an educational environment, your voice is valuable. Words in the form of haiku, free verse, or rap, allow our grandfathers and fathers, who became our “Broad-Shoulders”, a voice. They offer the secrets that you have buried, a place to be. From your inner-thoughts to your broken-heart, poetry examines all, that is received. The words reflect your ability to comprehend, see, and express truth.  A truth that tells you, that sometimes the system is broken. It reveals that your talent, also allows you to see a different Emperor than the one in the children’s tale. This Emperor appeared in different forms around the globe. The Emperor that you have been given the ability to see, isn’t just naked; he is a “Monster.”


Creatures escaped from Iliad

yielding weapons of mass destruction

traveling Vikings wreaking havoc

stealing blind mice and colored men

godless blue-eyed soldiers

selling souls to the highest bidder

one soul for you

two souls for me

here’s a soul for the depths of the sea

greed desperately seeking earthly treasures

from New York to Zanzibar

covering the globe on chariots of fire

an illusion of beauty

an illusion of valor

a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing

a dragon is hidden in a lamb

invaders called Constantine, Hitler, and Columbus

who cast their evil spell

once upon a time

in a land not far away

permanently indoctrinating

weaving their web for all to see

come to claim all humanity

wishing upon a distant star

or..can praying send Dorothy back to Oz

no..stepping into the sea in red slippers

no..growing golden locks and magic wands

won’t return monsters to nightmares

to nightmares and beyond…


Nuwla contributor: JoAnn Gardner
Monster credit: Written by JoAnn Gardner
Feature photo was taken from

Suggested readings

Return to Kemet: Poetry, for Those Who Travel Faster Than Light


Alabama Racism Taught Me To Rechannel My Energies

JoAnn has spoken at venues ranging from, The Comedy Store, to Biola University. She has performed and composed for a U.S. Senator. Staged a One-Woman Show at the African-American History Museum, in Los Angeles. A highlight in her life was writing and performing a show, designed for the deaf community. The Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, performance was amazing. She was the Division 33, Toastmaster of 2016. She currently serves as Area Director for Division 33-Area A-4: 2016-2017. Her book is Return to Kemet.



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  • David Fenelus

    I always love reading articles from individuals who experienced life during the civil rights era. It’s the first I hear of a man named George Wallace. I spend a couple of hours to learn about him today. He compromised his integrity for political gain.