Poetry is a way to empower and uplift Black voices

We need more celebration within social justice work

Image by: Herbert Wang
Kasai believes social justice work must celebrate the beauty of diversity. 

Social justice work was draining until I found poetry.  

As a Black kid in a predominantly white high school, most of the activism that surrounded me happened during one month: February. It was either entirely performative—such as content posted on Instagram—or it was relatively educational content that teachers attempted to share with classes of students who didn’t seem to care.  

The large issue at hand was the lack of celebration. The content was depressing. It felt isolating and almost shameful to sit in a classroom full of white students and have them watch a one-sided portrayal of Black culture that only displayed suffering.  

After the uprisings of 2020, performative activism was particularly pungent. All the content circling the web created a bitter bulge in my throat that felt suffocating. I would open Instagram and immediately be bombarded with videos of Black bodies being brutally mistreated by the police. It seemed like the murder of Black men and women became social media’s eye candy. It was sick and twisted; I hated it all.  

Following all the videos of police brutality, the whole “Blackout Tuesday” foolishness surfaced. Instagram was soon flooded with millions of Black squares which were somehow going to help solve the systemic issues at hand.  It was all too much. I needed a way to process and express how I felt—that’s exactly what I did through my first-ever poem titled “Unjustified.”  


George Floyd 

Breonna Taylor 

Tamir Rice 

Eric Garner  


I hope these are all names that most of you have seen before. 

It’s unfortunate that these names are known for their deaths, and nothing more. 


Behind each name, each number, each statistic, and each story covered, 

There is a family, a community, a life an opportunity,  

For greatness.  


Greatness in oneself, and greatness in society. 


See these names might just be names for someone like you.  

If you feel no connection, and not many do,  

Then it’s hard to connect and make the issue seem true. 


No, no, I get it.  

The issue does seem true to you.  

Well at least true enough to share one or two, 

Posts or hashtags or maybe even a video,  


Of a Black man being murdered. 


Wow! Look at that.  

There’s hashtag BLM in the corner, 

And an aesthetically pleasing border,  

That person must be a supporter.  


Well, I hope you see that it’s not that easy. 

Because posting is one thing,  

But truly understanding the issue,  

Is a whole other process. 


You might say that it’s difficult to understand, 

Because you, as a Canadian, don’t experience it firsthand. 


Well if that’s the case, then let’s bring it closer to home, 

Starting with an example straight off the dome. 


Abdirahman Abdi 

A 37-year old, Ottawa, Somali man, 

With a supportive community and a family that can’t, 

Ever see him again. 


See Abdirahman was beaten to death with brass knuckles. 

His family mentioned that he was a man that struggled, 

With mental illness.  


Abdirahman harassed a woman in a local Bridgehead, 

Which lead, 

To the police being called, so Abdirahman fled, 

But instead, 

Of taking the right measures to de-escalate the situation,  

The police found his location  


Beat in his head. 


He’s dead.  


Currently, in your mind, you’re attempting to justify these actions. 

It’s horrible that when a Black man dies, 

This has become the natural reaction, 

It shows lack of compassion,  

And serves only as a distraction. 


I’ll put it plainly and simply, 


Police are on our streets to protect and serve, 

They have no role in playing God, deciding who deserves, 

To live or to die,  

Black families, they cry, 

As their brothers and sisters, 

Are lifted up to the sky, 




The poem helped me unravel my ideas and transform them from a thorny mess swirling around my head into a flower that bloomed brightly. This is where the celebration started.  

I shared the poem with my family and friends. Their reactions empowered my voice and gave me the confidence to post it on Instagram. I received dozens of personal messages from all types of people, thanking me for sharing my art and praising how truthful and raw it was. I felt like I had truly made an impact, so I decided to continue pursuing poetry as a craft. 

During the summer I joined a pilot program called Prezzy Youth Media. Their goal was to empower the voice of Black youth, providing them with tools and resources to make an impact. We created several fantastic videos throughout the summer, and for our final project we created a video highlighting the beauty and importance of Black hair.  

There was acting, beautiful cinematography, and I composed and delivered my spoken word piece titled  “More Than Just Hair.”  

More Than Just Hair

Black hair is an art form and expression. 

It serves a purpose, 

It has meaning and intention. 

So pay attention, because you’re about to learn a lesson 

On our hair and its importance 

Here’s the answer to your question; these… 


…4C curls and kinky twirls – they look, 

Flawless on Black boys and girls. 

It takes nurturing care to yield that shine like pearls. 

Because it’s more than just hair, 

For many, it means the world. 


Now let’s look at the history. 

No longer shall Black hair be a mystery. 

In the past, our people were lacking maps, 

So they used cornrows to navigate, 

Their plaits would mark the tracks… 


 …To escape from the plantation,  

Travel to a destination, 

Where they’d gather together and 

celebrate emancipation. 



Now you know more than before. 

But that’s just the beginning, 

It’s an entry through the door. 

 Let’s make it personal – what does Black hair mean to me? 

Well, my roots connect me literally to history. 

But my ends are what express my true identity. 

See my ends are what display my creativity. 

My hair it sends a valued message, 

That I am free.  


And see this message is important to share because, 

Now you understand why it’s more than just hair. 

I said I hope you understand why it’s  


More Than Just Hair. 


This was truly a celebratory piece of Black art. We released the video on Instagram, and it exploded with more love, praise, and support than we ever expected.  

The New Hot 89.9 and CBC morning radio reached out to us for an interview to delve deeper into the message of the piece. I was nervous before answering the phone for my radio interview until it hit me: my voice had such an impact that people all around the city were attentively listening. This realization provided me with an immense feeling of empowerment. I used that newfound confidence to preach celebration and the uplifting of Black voices.  

Social justice work is emotionally and mentally draining when the focus is solely on the education of others rather than the celebration within one’s own community. Celebration means giving space to Black voices and shining a spotlight on the excellence that flourishes among us.  

Poetry is just one way to do this.  

We must shift the atmosphere of activism within the Black community from the somber tone we know far too well to something more uplifting that highlights creativity. Our voices have been silenced for far too long, but there isn’t a more perfect time to speak loudly and proudly.  


Kasai is a first-year Arts student.


Black voices, Empowerment, Poetry, Social justice work

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