The Children of the Poor
What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.
My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone.
And plentitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere.
Of late, a familiar line from a poem in "The Children of the Poor," Gwendolyn Brooks’ sonnet sequence, has resurfaced in my thoughts, bringing with it a mood as troubled as the sorrow songs:
“What shall I give my children, who are poor/
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land...?”
The line has always given me pause, from the first time I read it, which had to be in the late Sixties, as the Black Power/Black Arts movement was exploding, in urban centers in America, in my third grade classroom via a young socially engaged teacher, and in my consciousness.
As I grew older, the line eventually challenged me each time I read it. It became not a question that Miss Brooks was asking of herself but a question I asked of myself, because the conditions that circumscribed Black children's lives in 1949 when "The Children of the Poor" appeared in Miss Brooks' first book, Annie Allen, had become more acute, so today at the mid-century mark in my life, I ask myself, “what shall I give my children who are poor, who are adjudged the leastwise of the land?”
Miss Brooks says in the poem, “plenitude of plan shall not suffice…,” and, she is right. Well intentioned plan upon plan that ends up lying on the drawing board will not suffice to rescue our children. Yet, I do yearn for a plan, a handbook, a blueprint, something tangible to give our children, to lay out the narrative of their heritage; to explain how circumstances have unfolded to create the world they inhabit; to show them how to navigate this economically and racially stratified America; and how to become thriving citizens of an increasingly shrinking global society.
There is so much rich instruction, counsel, advice and perspective that our writers and artists have created—I want to open all of it to our children through publishing and production of programs, and film and theater—modes, methods and devices to engage their innate talents and genius in productive action.
I want to tell our children what they are up against. But I also want to tell them that they are not defined by the narrow assessment of how others choose to see them.
I want to tell them that they are children of God; God made them, and sent them to this world at this time. And that their potential is as great as any that they can imagine; in fact, their potential is greater than anything that they can ask or think, according to the immeasurable power of God Himself, if they will believe in Him.
So, I have plenitude of plan. But via the words that I write, or publish by other writers, I have found my proper stone. I am working my plan. I am preparing resources for our children and publishing stories about what you, concerned readers, are doing to educate our young people.
Tell me, then, what is your proper stone? How are you engaged in preparing our children? What do you give—what shall you give to our children who are poor? who are adjudged the leastwise of the land?