Black Boys

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue

Black boys play outside and are told to bathe and change before sitting at the table for dinner with their families. Black boys get shaken awake by mothers to get ready for school on gray cold mornings. Black boys wait—in colorful coats, bright backpacks (black boys love purple but are taught it’s a girl’s color, so we hide it in blue)—black boys wait for autumnal shaded school buses.

Black boys trade Magic and Pokémon cards in the library before the school bell sounds. Black boys run to class, afraid of tardies—and the mamas who will find out.

Black boys play video games, because freeway-induced asthma chokes them from basketball courts and football fields. Black boys ignore tight chests up and down courts and endure.

Black boys die from broken hearts.

Black boys love their black teachers and smile and get excited when they see them outside of the school building—those “I know your Mama and Daddy” teachers, those “see them in church on Sunday” teachers.

Black boys want pets: dogs, cats, and rabbits to pet. Black boys want reptiles and amphibians and birds,

‘cuz black boys want wings.

Black boys praise God. Black boys sing in the choir.

Black boys get in trouble for bad grades. Black boys dream. Black boys run with outstretched arms still praying for the flight that was never given to Bigger Thomas,

‘cuz black boys want wings.

Black boys feel the pain of their dying mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers.

Black boys think they won’t live to become men.

Black boys will be boys, who hope to become men, who learn like everyone else what is the difference between wrong and right.

Black boys need chances.

Black boys camp. Black boys hunt. Black boys fish. Black boys cry when they watch The Fox and the Hound.

Black boys draw pictures in crayon worthy of your refrigerator. Black boys want to write—write raps—write rhymes—write poetry.

Black boys want to—and deserve to—tell their own stories.

Black boys fear the monsters in their closets and under their beds—and in the streets outside of their homes—fear those they should not fear.

Black boys cower. Black boys have nightmares. Black boys climb into their parents’ beds.

Black boys create. Black boys laugh. Black boys cry.

Black boys bleed.
Black boys breathe.
Black boys feel pain.
Black boys want to


Black boys die.
Black boys die.
Black boys die

If you take any line from this poem to hold in your heart, please
take t­his one: black boys, all black boys,
want to live.

Vernon Keeve III is a Virginia-born writer, and a California-crafted ed- ucator. His full-length collection of poetry, Southern Migrant Mixtape, is available through Nomadic Press, and received the 2019 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.

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