Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

Multiplicity Commons No. 4

Speaking Up, Finally

by Susan Barry-Schulz

Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

I am by no means an expert on racial justice issues. I grew up in a mostly white town and moved to another mostly white town in the Hudson Valley region of New York State with my husband and our newborn daughter 25 years ago. Not long ago I would have considered myself a “nice” person who “treats everyone the same” and left it at that. Coming of age in the northern suburbs of Buffalo in the 1970s and 80s, I was socialized to avoid any discussions that could cause discomfort or tension. But in recent years I have found myself belatedly driven to answer this question: What does it really mean to be white in America?

There are many people much smarter than I am who have long pointed out that the key to making real progress on the problem of racism in this country lies in the willingness of white people to honestly consider and acknowledge the answer to that question. I don’t know why it took me so long to ask it.

After reading Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, I continued to explore the concept of whiteness as a racial identity in America by reading books on race theory and racism, including Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me. I listened to podcasts such as Scene on Radio’s Seeing White and attended lectures by speakers directly addressing these issues. But as a poet myself, I found it just as important to read literature and poetry by people of color. Which writers are included in our school curriculums? Whose voices are we not hearing? How do we challenge the ideas of what is considered literature? Who makes these decisions?

As I read, listened, and reflected, it became more and more apparent to me that our nation’s past and current policies have a direct impact on opportunities for equal access to loans, housing, healthcare, fair pay, education, criminal justice, and representation in the arts—all rights and benefits that I, a white person in America, have had the privilege of taking for granted. Until now. It has been painful to recognize the ways in which I, through silence and inaction, have been complicit in the systemic racism that persists in this country and that continues to hold all of us back from reaching our full potential as a society. There is, however, no progress to be made, no benefit to anyone in centering my discomfort.

At the Democratic National Convention in August, Kamala Harris said, “Years from now, when this moment has passed, our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us, ‘Where were you when the stakes were so high?’ And we will tell them, not just how we felt, but what we did.”

I am hoping I can do better and the first thing I must do is to speak up. Even—especially—when it is uncomfortable.

About the Writer

Susan Barry-Schulz is a poet and licensed physical therapist. Her poetry has appeared in The Five-Two, The Wild Word, SWWIM, Shooter Literary Magazine, Barrelhouse online, South Florida Poetry Journal, The New Verse News, Panoply, and elsewhere. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center and lives in a lake neighborhood in Putnam County, New York with her husband and one or more of her three adult children. It all depends.

Black Lives Matter: Two Poems

Multiplicity Commons No. 3

It Took One Week

by Ramon Jimenez

It only took a week for people
to come out of quarantine into the streets of Seattle
mustering the will to face baton beatings
and gas blasting through the nighttime sky.

Police officers armed to the teeth
with military grade artillery,
and a confused National Guard
stalking every corner of downtown.

Useless against the rage of 400 years.

The local news stations of Kiro, Komo, and King 5
Replayed only the images of looting and rioting,
more focused on storefronts
than Black and Brown lives lost in broad daylight.

Even the mayor was spellbound.
Taking a knee
Giving out a couple of hugs
her lovely liberal city
burning before us all.

About the Writer

Ramon Jimenez is a writer and educator who resides in Seattle, Washington. Originally from Inglewood, California, he now teaches language arts and runs a summer youth poetry program. He writes poetry that focuses on immigration, culture, and travel, and is interested in exploring locations and how they connect to memories.

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

Multiplicity Commons No. 2

Crying for Water City

by Amy Stonestrom

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

A strong gust of wind rattles the windows and shakes the house with such force that I wonder if I need to gather my chicks and hurry to the basement.

Then nothing. All is calm.

Minutes later I jolt in my chair at the sound of firecrackers pop, pop, popping in our front yard. Firecrackers? It’s only late May. From the next room I hear my son’s deep, calm voice.

“The tree fell.”

“The tree?” I’m envisioning the small flowering crab with the skinny trunk. Fine, I think.

“Mom, the tree fell,” my son says again, and now we’re both rushing to the front door. There it is, lying almost at our feet. Our enormous red maple, Acer rubrum, split in two. One half stands upright, the other half covers the yard. The top of the canopy lies just short of our living room window.

Last fall, the blaze of the collective foliage was so beautiful it caused an ache just behind my rib cage. I feel the same ache now, knowing I will never again witness this display.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

Drew says what I am thinking: “It’s because of the protests and riots.”

Red has survived countless blizzards, spring storms, and straight-line winds but it would not stand while Minneapolis fell.

We now live 20 miles from downtown, separated by one state line and two great rivers. Today, I long for our old neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We still call them home, will always call them home. The Twin Cities. Conjoined but not identical.

Each time I close my eyes, I hear Mr. Floyd cry out beneath the unyielding knee. I see the burned-out buildings, the supremacist instigators. I taste the justified anger.

The land of ten thousand lakes, now a waterfall of tears.  

Drew and I walk carefully among the fallen branches. I want to cradle each newly opened bud in my cupped hands. Together we approach the gaping wound in the trunk, previously hidden from view. Giant ants climb through the oozing sickness. Disease and decay found their way to the center while we weren’t looking. Or maybe we choose not to see it. I step closer and gag from the stench. I wonder if we could have stopped this destruction had we treated the wound sooner.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

About the Writer

Amy Stonestrom’s essays have appeared in Brevity, Superstition Review, Defunkt, Storm Cellar Quarterly, Parhelion and others. Her work has won awards from the National League of American Pen Women and Street Light Magazine’s memoir/essay contest. Currently an MFA candidate in Bay Path University’s creative nonfiction program. You can find her at amystonestrom.com.

Social Justice Today by Aprell May

Multiplicity Commons No. 1

Social Justice Today

by Aprell May

Breonna Taylor. Delano Walker Jr. Dominic May. Mark Scalise. Lenny Brown. Benjamin Schoolfield. Sandra Bland. Rodney King. Melvin Jones. George Floyd. Ramona Africa. John Africa. Emmett Till. Colin Kaepernick. Darryl Moss. Philando Castile. Atatiana Koquice Jefferson. Kendrick Johnson. Ahmaud Arbery. Eric Garner. Ramsey Orta. Vauhxx Booker. Tamir Rice. Treyvon Martin. Botham Jean. Amadou Diallo. Fitzroy Gayle. Terence Dickerson. Michall Brown. Elijah McCain. Nelson Mandela. Angela Davis. Frank Embree. Daniel Prude. Tamron Hall. Leroy Martinez. Emmanuel Mumford.

As I reflect on these names of people living and dying with injustice, I am both sad and strengthened. I am sad for the bloodshed. I am sad for loss. I am sad for the pain and hurt suffered by the families of every human being on this incomplete list. Torn-apart families and communities for centuries on end. Each family missing parents, siblings, extended family, and friends. Their names are a representation of missing memories, of lost love and family traditions. Some names belong to my family. Some to my friends.

I am sad because of the number of the commenters on public news forums who seem indifferent to systematic oppression. Some of them saying that capital punishment without a jury is okay for misdemeanor crimes. Death being served with a warrant, as in Breonna’s case. Our people are still told to “get over it,” while our flesh is being crucified each day. How do we get over the first ones, tied and chained, the ones who did not make it off the coast? Those who were thrown off the ship? Those who chose death at the bottom of the Atlantic? How do we get over it now, when CBS News reports that more than 160 Black people in our country have been killed by police this year alone?

And yet I am strengthened to see my community stand up at protests. I am strengthened to see that, contrary to propaganda, people aren’t only crabs in the bucket, pulling their neighbors down, but some are lifting as they climb. Classmates creating art. Bosses sending out sincere emails telling staff to check on their Black coworkers. High-school teens organizing large protests amidst a pandemic. I am strengthened to see social justice groups forming all over the country. My cousin in East Hampden organized a social justice committee whose mission is to let the town know that “a knee is not enough” for some of its citizens.

I am encouraged when I see white moms banding arms because they were summoned when George called for his mom. Or the white man yelling, “white bodies to the front,” at the Springfield Black Lives Matter protest. Or the hearing-impaired girl who stood in front of me while we waited for the Springfield Police Department to take a knee in solidarity. She waited all night by herself and into morning to no avail. Professors creating political art and the president of my university attending a Juneteeth program.

I am strengthened to see the resilient people who hold values in social justice and equality.

I am strengthened to see this generation fighting for civil rights by “owning their now.”

About the Writer

Aprell May is currently a graduate student, completing her final year in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University. A tribal member of the Native American Inter-Tribal Council of Western Massachusetts, she interns at the Springfield Library and Museums in collaboration with a collector to create a living community exhibit in the Native American Hall. She contributes to Bay Path’s Network News, the Voices of Resilience, and the Women on the Move conference. Aprell is at work on her first memoir, Classic Fly.