Cydney Hope Brown

Mama and Papa

Inspired by the Life of Septima Poinsette Clark* 

My father was born a slave, you know
on the Joel Poinsette plantation
near Georgetown, South Carolina

As a young man, he had to walk the white man’s children to school every morning

They learned to read
but he could barely write his name

My father wanted us to have an education
This was the only thing that I knew he would whip you for:
If you didn’t want to go to school.
No matter how much I cried and hollered
“I’m too tired to go.”
He whipped me and walked me to school himself
He walked me, like he walked them
Proud, that I’m getting the education
He was denied
He used to get downhearted
Cause he would just write an X
But now he can sign his name on checks

Mother boasts
She was never a slave
Never had to work hours in the field
With the scorching sun burning her skin
Afraid a white man would whip her

She was a lady
If someone on the side of the street
wanted her to buy vegetables from their red wagon. They
should bring it to the door
A true lady
doesn’t leave her house to buy fresh food

She was born in Haiti,
the boss of our house
she never
whipped me too much
I was cautious
of what she disliked
I tried to correct her one Sunday morning when she was telling her sister something I’d said;
“Mama, I never said that. Mama, that’s not true.”
she slapped my teeth out of the front of my mouth
made me wash it out with some salt and water and go right on to Sunday school.
That Sunday, the teacher brought up a verse.
Exodus 20:12
“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving
That same night when I was saying my prayers to God
she wanted me to say “God bless Mama”
I wouldn’t do it, so she whipped me again
and put me to bed. 

*The research resulting in this publication was assisted by a grant from the Undergraduate Research Grant Program which is administered by Northwestern University’s Office of Undergraduate Research. However, the conclusions, opinions, and other statements in this publication are the author’s and not necessarily those of the sponsoring institution.

Cydney Brown is the 2023 Northeast Regional Youth Poet Laureate, 2020-2021 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate and author of “Daydreaming.” She is a Sophomore at Northwestern University and has been writing poetry since she was in 5th grade. Brown has been featured in The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6abc, Philadelphia Citizen, and Fox29. She won first place in The National Hip Hop workshop poetry competition and is the Recipient of The Romero Scholarship For Excellence In Spoken Word. She is a Gold Award Lifetime Member Girl Scout, recipient of The Good Citizenship Award, and Shine Global’s Youth Activist Award. Cydney wishes to inspire people to speak their truth and share her poetry with the world.