This is a poem for a little black girl

A little black girl with her hair in four braids that stick out from her head

Who plays double dutch with her friends on the playground and can always jump to one hundred

Who wears flouncing pink dresses and those special ruffled socks to Sunday school—the kind of socks that only black mothers know where to find

A little black girl with a mind as piercing as an arrow

With a sparkle in her eye

And dreams that touch the sky.

I want you to remember that the earth loves you.

It always opens its arms when you come near with your laughter and your vivid imagination.

Why else do you think it made the whites of your eyes so clear,

Gave you hair that reaches toward the sky in a soft cloud,

Clothed you in brown skin that gleams silver or golden where it stretches over your bones?

When your dark eyes sparkle and twinkle, haven't you noticed that the birds turn to look?

Remember this, this woven basket of love that encircles you

Because the world will try to make you forget it.

They'll tell you first that you're ugly.

In their words and the nasty curl of their lips, they'll say

That the beautiful brown skin that covers you might as well be a cloak of dirt

That your nappy hair is as coarse and messy as a rat's nest

That your nose is too big and your lips are disgustingly thick.

For proof, they'll compare you to someone who looks nothing like you.

Then they'll tell you that you're stupid and ignorant and unruly

Disregarding the way words flow out of your mouth like a mighty river, rushing and alive

They'll make you ashamed of your dreams that reach towards the sky.

They'll call you things like "baby momma" and "black bitch" before you even know what they mean.

In all this, they'll try to wound your pride

Crush your spirit

Break your heart

So you'll fall to your knees in surrender, thinking you're worthless, no longer able to follow your own destiny.

And for a time, they'll succeed.

For a time you'll feel so lonely and ugly and miserable that you'll wish to reborn as something, anything other than what you are.

You'll wonder: if I could erase this dark skin, this curse, maybe people would love me.

Then, daughter of Africa

Then you must remember the words that I told you.

You were made to capture the sunshine

Your rich voice was made to call the spirits out of their places in the earth,

Made to rouse people from their slumber with its endless depth and resonance.

Your wit and wisdom and intelligence and passion and flame and soul and most of all, your tender desperate love that knows no bounds and never runs dry—

These all echo like a shout to the highest heavens

And for a moment, everything stands still, in awe of your presence.

Remember your power

Remember your strength

Remember your beauty and wisdom and love

And chase after your dreams recklessly and fearlessly.

When you rise, truly rise,

Not even death will keep your spirit from lighting the skies.

The hidden pathways will be illuminated

And the seas will part for you as you pass by.

As for love—

Human love—

There will be many who will recognize the tilt in your head and the sparkle in your eyes as the marks of one who holds the stars in the palm of her hand

And they'll fall so far in love they may never be able to find their way out of it.

Little black girl

With your future so bright

With your smile that could warm the loneliest heart

Remember that God will always be with you.

So rise.

Take flight.