The day that I fell in love with Black literature was the same day that I read a collection of poems by my (then) favorite rapper Tupac Shakur.
The collection was called The Rose That Grew From Concrete. The specific poem that stole this Midwest Gypsy’s heart; immediately committing me to a lifetime partnership with Black literature, bore the same title.
After reading the book cover to cover, (admittedly stopping a few times to fangirl heavily over the rapper’s penmanship), I remember seeking out my mom for some understanding.
“Ma, can a rose really grow from the concrete?” I asked wide-eyed at the possibility. She stopped whatever her task was at the time, fixed her gold-framed eyes on me, then posed a question of her own. “Do you think it can?”
Back then my answer was a head-twisting “no way!” To my way of thinking, a flower growing from a crack in the concrete was up there with kissing frogs to make them princes, a Black spiderman who saves the world and having access to the internet on your phone at the press of a button. In short, it was just a fantasy.
One that a little Black girl from the Midwest never thought possible because she was raised to use logical thinking.
Later that night, when I was supposed to be tucked away asleep, I took that library book from my Bratz bookbag and turned on the flashlight I kept hidden underneath my bed. I flipped the grey-colored pages of Pac’s book until my brown eyes landed on the black-inked eight verses that had not left my mind all afternoon:
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Even though earlier I had dismissed the poem as something nonsensical, there was an element about the piece that pulled to me in the most magnetic way possible. I was drawn to this poem.
Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but there is something about reading at nighttime that opens up a different portal of understanding. And in my forbidden late-night reexamination of Tupac’s words, my understanding and outlook on everything expanded that night. For me, logic and life became one.
I tell people all the time, I have been reading since I was three years old. And even then, the only books I picked up were stories about children who looked like me. So my love of reading has always been intact. But the day that I said “I do” to Black literature was the day that I realized I was a rose that grew from the concrete. And Sistah Girls, I kid you not, I felt so seen.
Just like the flower Pac mentioned, I too was learning to “walk without feet” and keeping my dreams with me with every step that I took towards the top.
I remember the next day, I sat at the breakfast table reciting the poem to my mom with a huge smile on my face. She listened intently, and then like any mother does after a 5-star performance by their child, she applauded. When she asked how I felt about the poem, I shrugged and told her, “anything is possible.”
The muscle memory of how much I grinned with pride still makes my jaw sore to this day. However, the pride I remember feeling from tapping into my own abilities was ten times that.
A rapper, an actor, and a thug too…in my young eyes Lesane Parish Crooks, known to the world as Tupac Amaru Shakur, was the man even before I read his poetry. But once I did, I could not get enough of the writing style and I wanted more.
Thanks to A Rose, the next time I ended up at my local library, I acquainted myself with the poetry shelves. There, I discovered Nikki Giovanni, Dr. Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Thee Zora Neale Hurston, and so many other Black poets.
Sistah Girls, my young mind was blown! In a short span of time, I had gone from the girl who didn’t care about to be or not to be, to wanting to know why the caged bird sings. I guess it is safe to say that I was not a big poetry buff before reading Tupac’s book.
The day that I truly, truly, fell in love with Black literature was the day I realized that Black literature is a fantasy. It is a place where a Princess kisses a frog to find her prince, a Black spiderman saves the world, and everyone has access to the internet on their phone at the press of a button.
I fell in love with Black literature when I realized that just like Black people, it is not a monolith. That it’s how we communicate recipes from generations before us.
It is how our mamas used to leave us our chores list on the envelope of the bills before cellphones, and she had to work on a day you’re off from school. It is how you ask that guy from 4th period if he likes you and he has to check yes or no.
It is a game of M.A.S.H in the cafeteria to determine if you’ll end up in a mansion, an apartment, a shack, or a house. If you let it, Black literature would tell you about your future.
Black literature also tells you about your past. And I’m not talking about shackles and boat rides. I’m talking about the time of royalty and tradition. And in reading Black literature, I feel a reconnection to that royalty and those traditions.
The day that I fell in love with Black literature was the day I realized that Black literature was a reflection of me, and every time I open a book written by a Black author who is telling a Black story, I am pleased with what I see in us.
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