In the Community

Invisible Freedom: A Poem by Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate Ayana Askew

Ayana Askew

Community Voices is a series by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation that features diverse people of Hampton Roads sharing their experiences and reflections on life in the region, philanthropy as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I once read that hope is the thing with feathers. It’s resilience is able to weather
Life’s storm, the waves that form and come crashing on African shores, Sweeping us away into the ocean of sorrows
Created by the salty tears of our ancestors,
By the incessant rain of the white man reigning supreme,
But somehow, instead of drowning, they treaded on their hopes and their dreams As they journeyed to America.

Their crowns of royalty became crowns of thorns. Their broken backs became America's backbone. Taken from their home and thrown into bondage
Was Comme, 18 years old, 59 inches, arrived in 1819 on the slave ship Juanita. Kosse, a little girl only 24 inches tall, a baby still learning to crawl.
History was not written in stone which is why the grave stones were often unmarked. It was written in the scars of bodies used as whipping posts,
Found in the blood shed on American soil.
They try to white out our history but the truth will always bleed through. They can’t erase pain because it was never written in pencil.

Not only must we remember the pain but we must remember the strength.
We must remember the thing with feathers that reminds us that after a storm comes a calm. After a rainy day, the sun will peep through the clouds shedding light on our future.
Hope became an eternal flame sparked by the heartfelt freedom songs sung despite captivity, Sparked by June 19th, 1865 when Texas ended slavery and all enslaved people were free, Sparked by the shouts of jubilee echoing across the United States,
Sparked by the strength and resilience it took for Harriet Tubman's feet to go from running from slave masters to walking into freedom,
Sparked by Phyllis Wheatley's words setting the stage for me to walk on,
But like Minister Louis Farrakhan said, emancipation is freeing a bird into America’s cage, But hope was the explanation for why the caged bird still sings,
Why grass can push its way through the concrete,
Why the blues was born through the bellies of sadness,
And why, I, a black girl, can live in the world freer than they could ever imagine.

I once read that hope is the thing with feathers which is able to weather life’s storms. So, on this Juneteenth look down and see that we stand on the wings of phoenixes And even in the midst of our jubilee, let's be grounded in the roots of history,
And not wait for freedom to be bestowed but rather
To bestow upon ourselves the true freedom of our mind, spirit and body.


Ayana Askew is a 2022 Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate. She is the 2022 valedictorian of Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk. She also was named a Gates Scholar and a Presidential Scholar for the Arts. Ayana also won gold in the NAACP ACT-SO poetry competition locally and nationally for two consecutive years. Ayana attended Governor's School for the Arts for several years and has participated in Teens With a Purpose. Ayana is a Norfolk native and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Askew Sr. She enjoys playing tennis, swimming, writing poetry, and playing the piano.

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