Johnique W, a 12th grader from Ohio, helped us at the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) kick off our yearlong equity campaign on the unmet promise of Brown vs. Board of Education. In a video, Johnique performs The Deep End, a powerful poem she wrote after visiting a civil rights exhibit in Cleveland.
In this Q&A, Johnique shares how growing up in a place that “doesn’t really listen to the ideas of children” led her to inspire others through poetry and writing.
Q. What was your inspiration for The Deep End?
A. I wrote this poem after going on a trip to the Maltz Museum in Cleveland, Ohio to see the Civil Rights Exhibit. I was so taken with every photograph and the depictions were so powerful to me that I went home and wrote my emotions out, and it transformed into this slam poem.
Q. When did you start getting into poetry? Was it something you learned in school?
A. I grew up in parts of Cleveland that weren’t the most child-friendly areas and went to inner-city schools that were not necessarily equipped to foster the growth of a student like myself. I started writing stories in 3rd and 4th grade. I didn’t fully get into poetry until my 7th grade year in the Orange City School District. Since moving here, I have been given so many opportunities to grow as student and a writer, but also as a person.
Q. Your writing is so powerful. What does it mean to you to be able to share your thoughts with others?
I have always had this undying passion to inspire others. To make them feel something with my words. To let kids like me know they are not alone. To connect with the world in the only way I know how.
Unfortunately, I grew up in a place that doesn’t really listen to the ideas of children. I had no voice with which to share my stories or express my feelings. It was through my frustration with this that I found writing. I learned that you do not always need to yell to be heard, and that the most powerful arguments are those that force people to understand, to feel your side of the story.
I write because I know I can connect with others, I know I can empathize with their frustration because I’ve felt it myself. I hope that my words can make a difference in the world, and that people learn what I did. If the world argued through emotion, tried to connect with each other instead of tear each other apart, I know it would be a better place.
Q. You are graduating from high school this spring. Congratulations! What’s next for you?
A. I have been accepted in to Kent State University on a full scholarship and will be going there in the fall in the Exploratory Major with a focus in the Communications and Information College. I hope to explore my interest in both journalism and screenwriting.
Q. As you know, All4Ed is asking individuals to share their challenges and hopes related to the unmet promise of Brown vs. Board of Education. Would you share your challenge and hope with us?
A. My challenge is that I’m a black girl in America. My hope is that one day that won’t matter.
Watch Johnique share her poem, The Deep End, in the video below. The full poem is also included at the end of this post.
Johnique W. is a 12th grade student from Ohio.
Learn more about All4Ed’s #OurChallengeOurHope campaign, launched on the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board and share your challenges and hopes at: all4ed.org/brownvboard/.
The Deep End by Johnique Wilson
At the Lincoln Park Public Pool
I Was told that I could not swim
In the deep end. I was just too small.
I was only 6 or 7 years old
But I knew damn well
I was good enough,
And I was so tired of slummin’ it,
Of my talents wasting away
In two feet of water
So one day,
At the perfect moment,
At the perfect time,
When the life guards weren’t looking,
And neither was the one person
Who could ever possibly stop me…
I snuck over to the edge
Of the deep end, and stared inside.
5 feet of beautiful, breath taking, misty
Grey public pool water.
It was the most enticing thing my young
Eyes had ever seen.
All the way up to the fence,
And I ran.
So fast my vision blurred,
So hard my feet hurt.
And when I lept into the water
I was convinced that I could fly
In a world hell bent on their grounding,
Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, and Fannie Hamer were convinced that they could fly.
They didn’t leap into public pools,
They leapt into voting registries,
They leapt into seats at the front of the bus,
They leapt into the streets
And they marched until their shoes,
Were no longer there to
Keep their feet from bleeding,
To protect them from the cuts and scrapes,
The battle scars that came with change.
These marvelous souls dove head first
Into a sea of hatred.
To prove to the rest of the world that
The pigmentation of their skin,
Did not make them
Any less human.
That if anything it made them more.
They fought for a brighter future,
A stronger society,
An accurate version of equality,
A great America.
Let’s Make America Great Again.
America was never great.
And prejudice and racism
Was never dead.
It was hidden in the shadows,
Shielded behind closed doors,
It was flying around like gnats
Whispering in our ears.
It was etched in the bathroom stalls at school.
It was worn as a mask when we were
Being followed around the mall,
When the sound of police cruisers
Slowing behind us as we walked down the street,
Was the bad dream that
woke us up at night.
And it was locked inside the tears,
The ones we shed,
When we were little and
Wished that God had never learned…
To color inside the lines…
The thing about
The little girl I was,
The one who thought
She could prove she was
Good enough to make it in
The deep end…
The girl convinced that she could fly…
She was in for a rude awakening,
When I finally hit the water,
Just when I thought that I had
When My feet hit the ground,
I couldn’t find My way
Back up to the surface…
And I panicked,
I forgot how to swim,
And almost drowned.