When We Arrived presents: Destroy in Order to Rebuild (Ferguson) a poem by Natalie Patterson

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This is not about a single boy being shot and killed in the street
This is about black boys being shot and killed in
the streets by a white men who took a vows to protect and serve
And how too often for the comfort of other black bodies do the shooters go free

This is not about Michael Brown
Not about Darren Wilson
But I wish it could be 

This is about america and its broken promise for freedom
About children not growing into adulthood
This is about a community continually being asked to have grace in the face of our children being murdered
About life spans being cut short
This is about buried bodies and eulogies

This too is about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant
About justice being elusive
About rage and war
About white people not owning their racism
About white guild and obliviousness
THIS is about an anger you can not comprehend from the luxury of your privilege
So be mindful of your mouth because the world is listening
Listening to the lack of compassion for a community in mourning
No, broken windows will not bring him back but it sure does drown out the sound of sobbing
Sure does distract from the confirmation that we live in a place that doesn’t give a fuck about my existence
Mutes the realization that people will call you an animal for expressing rage in the only way you have left
This is about race 
And how normal it is not to care about people that don’t look like you
Easy to speak to something you know nothing about

Have you ever seen life leave a body?
Ever felt wronged and had not a thing you could do about it?

This anger is about having to explain to white people on twitter and instagram why buildings are being burned
Because that is the only way to get your attention
Standing politely asking to have a conversation about race breeds discomfort and moans about playing the race card but
What do you know of being born black?
What do you know of the conversations black parents must have with their children about the way the world will treat them?
What do you know of a mourning like this?

I ask you these things because this is where healing begins
The second we get past political correctness and tell the truth
It is hard to wake up somedays knowing people that look like me are used as target practice
Knowing that my brother has not and may NEVER be safe
That I am safer because of the illusion my skin and eyes provide
The truth is, some days I want to hide from embarrassment because we are so disconnected from humanity
Value things over life itself
Choose to ignore the complication of rectifying inequality
and wonder why buildings are burning

Do not confuse the fire during a riot as misplaced rage
They are sending smoke signals to the ancestors
Begging for the justice our government fails to provide
Ferguson is performance art
Find the meaning in the broken glass
In the de-constructed police cars
Find the irony in how quickly the tear gas flies from hands meant to protect
Their voices have been ignored but these burning buildings cannot be

I pray we find our humanity
Find truth and justice
Learn to listen past our bigotry
and let this city destroy in order to rebuild.


When did you know you were a poet?

It took me a long time to believe that what I was writing in my room could fall under the same category as the greats. I really struggled with claiming that title but I remember asking Brutha Gimel, a fellow poet, when I first was beginning to take myself seriously how I would know when it was ok to call myself a poet. His answer was simple “You don’t have to tell a tree it’s a tree.” That has always stuck with me. I have always known I wanted to say important things, it took until I was 20 to know that poetry would be the way I would do it.

Do you have a favorite style of poetry? If so, what is it?

I really love free verse. There is a structure to my writing naturally so I don’t need rules. I started writing for the freedom of it, so free verse it is.

What can poetry teach us about life?

Everything has transferable truth. Every single thing. Therefore, poetry has the possibility of teaching us everything we want to know. It is the wise person who can learn from listening or reading and fully understand the experience without having to learn it by doing. I have learned so much about the world by listening to people sharing the way they see and experience life.


Natalie Patterson is a poet with the heart of a photographer, she is about capturing the moment. She started her journey with poetry at the age of 19, while in College at California State University, Los Angeles. She spent 10 years at the nation’s largest poetry venue and worked her way to being the first female host and producer in the 17 year history. Natalie has traveled the country on a college tour, has appeared in film, tv and documentaries. She has been Director of Poetry for Collective Voices Foundation and currently is Vice President of SisterSupport.org, a non-profit committed to the advancement of women. When she is not traveling for speaking engagements, consulting for Sephora or teaching her workshop Re-Connecting: Vulnerability & integrity, she is working on new ways to use her voice to inspire other to live fully self expressed. To find out more about Natalie or her work: www.natalieispoetry.com

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