Race Against Racism

Mayor

Madeline Rogero
mayor@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-2040

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Poem written for the January 19, 2019 YWCA Diversity Day & Race Against Racism event.

By Marilyn Kallet



Race Against Racism

My Montgomery mother had tickets to hear Martin Luther King 
at an interfaith dinner.
I found them in a basket, years later.

“Ma, Why didn’t you give those tickets
to someone else?”
 “Well, who would want them!” she sneered.

My Brooklyn-born dad used the “N” word 
smugly, like a private joke. 
Neither thought they were racist.

Daddy sold pinball machines to
Baby Doc Duvalier–who ordered them
for the palace children––despite

my young, activist sister 
screaming, “No, Daddy, 
don’t do it! He starves his own people.”

Here, in public, I can’t tell you 
what my father 
replied.

My mother said no way, she would
lie down and die, when I told her
I wanted my roommate Lila

for a bridesmaid. 
Lila was too brown for Mom.
My friend attended anyway, stood tall in ivory linen.

Mom and Dad blew it, by sending
my sister and me
to liberal colleges––Tufts,

Berkeley––we came home thinking.
Thinking strangers. “Vipers in the nest!”
My mother said. “We spent all that money…”

We ingrates marched the streets of Boston
and Berkeley––protesting wars
and police dogs in Alabama.

Daddy died young and never
turned around.
But Mom migrated back to Bama 

with Daddy’s urn.
My eighty-year old Ma protested 
in the streets of Montgomery 

about the cancellation
of downtown buses. 
“It’s not fair!” she said.

And when young black men picked her up
for the rally, her white-haired friends
teased her. “What are you not telling us,

Cecelia?”
She held her head high. For years
she volunteered to tutor lineman Curtis Green

in reading, so he could stay
in school, on the team.  
I’m here to tell ya’

It’s never too late to stand up,
never too late to open a mind.
But why wait? 

In the race against racism
everyone wins when we
speak out, even––if need be––

against our own.
Let us love harder, wider, 
faster, then.