Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

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To be WOKE is to understand that equality and justice for some is not equality and justice at all. We must stay alert. We must ask hard questions. We must stand for what is right–even when it is difficult and scary.

~ Mahogany L. Browne, Introduction to Woke

After reading Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo last year, I added everything else she has published, including Woke, to my reading list. Woke is a super short (56 pages) collection of poems, each around a specific area of awareness and social justice, such as “Justice”, “Protest”, and “Privilege.”

The collaboration between the three poets makes for very different poems. Of the three, I always recognized a poem penned by Acevedo. Her sense of rhythm and play with language are the foundation of her contributions to Woke and do not disappoint. A highlight from the collection is her poem “Rock The Boat” (which you can hear on Mr. Pieri Reads Aloud Youtube channel).

you contain waves,
you are an ocean,
your heart is as large as lakes
and when it quakes
you have to rise,
and rise,
and let the tide inside you
shake every single ship
that would attempt to sweep
someone beneath:

Rock the boat, rock the boat,
with love and hope, rock the boat.

Gatwood’s poem “What’s in My Toolbox?”, which defines “privilege” should be shared far and wide. It also lends itself to be used as a springboard for conversation in the classroom, as all of these poems do.

And Jason Reynolds’ introductory poem, “Talk Back”, could not be more apt:

…stand up straight
lock your shoulders
open your chest
and say your human things so I can hear
you ‘cross the room
‘cross the world
over all this noise. 

Woke says the human things and lets its audience know that it is on them to do the same. Which is seemingly the point of Woke. To generate understanding, to activate passion and compassion, to elevate being Woke and claiming this world.


Woke By Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood, Theodore Taylor III (Illustrations) at GoodReads

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