I Sing Their Names

A Poem by Glenn North

Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.
– African proverb

I know of a place on the confluence of the Missouri
and Kansas Rivers — originally the home of the Missouri,
the Kansa, and the Osage people.

The place where York,
strolling ahead of Lewis & Clark, set his left foot down,
and the whole world tilted west.

A place that called out
to my grandfather, Basil North Sr., who, at sixteen, rode
a mule 118 miles from Hartville, Missouri to Jefferson City
to attend Lincoln University.

He later saved up enough money
to send for my grandmother.

They both became educators
then moved here to Kansas City.

Perhaps that is my origin
story. Maybe that’s why I love this city more than it
loves me.

Still proud to say it’s where I’m from because
I know who came before me. My feet find comfort on their

Those whose light shines brightly beyond
February right into eternity.

And so, I sing of…
Langston and Parker,
Ms. Bluford and Mary Lou.

Old Buck, Leon Jordan,
Horace and Bruce.

Sarah Rector, Junius Groves,
Tom Bass, and Anna Jones.

Count Basie, Chester Franklin,
Bernard Powell and D. A. Holmes.

They are legion and I chant their names, almost as if holy,
because you have to be careful about who you allow to tell
your history.

As Malcolm once said, folks that won’t treat you
right won’t teach you right.

We must tell our own stories.
Reclaim our narrative.

We must read, research, collect,
interpret, curate, archive, document, observe, and report.

There is a little brown girl in a classroom who has no idea
how beautiful her afro puffs are, and she needs to know.

There is a little brown boy who doesn’t see himself reflected
in a biased curriculum so he loses interest, gets labeled
with a behavior disorder, drops out, runs across
the right cop on the wrong day and becomes a headline
and a hashtag.

He needed to know. There are little white children
in schools all over America being taught that the world revolves
around them.

Before they grow up to believe that it does,
they need to know.

I know of a place on the confluence
of jazz, blues, baseball, and barbecue; home of countless
Black lives that certainly mattered.

I have no choice but
to sing their names.