National Writing Project

Why I Write: To Awaken the Spirit in the Downtrodden

By: Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Al Mills
Date: September 21, 2011

Summary: Twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha use poetry and social action "to awaken the spirit of awareness buried deep within the souls of the downtrodden." Their poem, "Why I Write," aims to teach children about the importance of self-expression and how it can help them through their struggles and challenges.

 


Watch the Twin Poets in action—teaching and reciting.
 

The poem "Why I Write" isn't just a poem for Al Millis and Nnamdi Chukwuocha; it's their story of devotion to art and community and speaks to their goal of helping children grow up in the face of poverty and violence in the tough Riverside neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware.

Inspired at an early age to write and express themselves through verse, the "Twin Poets," as they call themselves, have won many awards and grants for not only their written and spoken word, but also for their involvement in their community. They've appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Apollo Theater in New York, Philadelphia's Painted Bride, Delaware's Grand Opera House, and New Jersey's Atlantic City Uptown Complex.

While the poem can be read, it's best seen performed. Watch the video to see their work with youth and hear the performance of "Why I write."

Why I Write

Al Mills

I write for the youth
Who never laid in the grass and looked up at the clouds
For youth who hide on the inside
When the teacher asks for volunteers to read out aloud
I write for youth who ain't never even looked up at the clouds
Without expecting to feel rain
I write for lil girls who must double dutch near bloodstains
And don't' know their father's name
I write to show the youth
That there are far more important things to think and talk about
Than the beef between nas/jay z or when the new jordans coming out
I write cause I want to be more important to my son than his pokemon collection
I write to help the youth find their direction
I write to explain the pain or put the happiness in words
I write cause God is 1st, Nnam' is 2nd, and im a close 3rd
I write to give a voice to all the beautiful everyday things
Like birds flying south and leaves turning colors
That get over looked
I write for all the fiends who said they'd never get hooked
I write for all the nephews that know the pain
Of seeing their favorite Uncle go from being one of the Koolest Kats on earth
To just a junkie always begging for change
I write for relatives who can't relate to one another
For lil girls who were looking for love and found themselves teen mothers
I write for the cycle of poverty that never ends in the pj's
I write for grown men who prey on young girls these days
I write for all the Rodney Kings they didn't get on tape
For all the lil' girls that have to go to court and prove they've been raped
I write for the beautiful artist, singers, poets and scholars
Whose talent warrants that of athletes' dollars
I write cause a man with a basketball ain't never been a threat
That's why Allen & Kobe can cash million dollar checks
I write for everyone
From unemployed college grads to drunk dads and babies mommas
Who want a better tomorrow but must still deal with yesterday's drama
I write for all the yesterdays and tomorrows
Innocent men are going to spend behind bars
I write for jail cells that are filled before the prisons are even built
I write for all those who see prisons as businesses
And wardens as CEOS
So lets build theses prisons and fill these prisons
And see how many minorities they can hold
I write for parents that don't have good parenting skills
The ones that buy outfits rather than paying bills
I write for all the unaccounted hours
Fathers spend away from their children
And all the bill money spent on buying drinks for women
I write for all the family trees that died when grandparents did
I write for all the togetherness that was displayed when the grandparents lived
I write to tell tales of black boys like Donald Goines and Richard Wright did so well
I write cause I was also born on Nov 16th like NOC and Chinua Achebe
And when you hear poems like I Wanna
And read books like Things Fall Apart they stay with you forever
I write cause the words are all that i have at times
And not a day goes by when the mission isn't on my mind
I write cause God's thoughts enter my mind in the form of rhyme
And my minds rhymes take you to the confines of grimy urban places
Some of which ain't never been seen by white faces
So when I address the fact
That so many black teens have never seen their father's faces
They label me racist
So I write
I write to share my love affair of words with the children
Because God is on my tongue and the world is in need of healing
I write cause the children didn't understand
The depth behind the deaths of Big and Pac
I write cause there is no more room at all on the walls
For RIP Man Man & Mouky on my block
I write cause there are times at night
When I can't see any signs of life in the children
I write cause I know underneath all those drugs are some beautiful children
Children who just want to laugh & grin and enjoy life again
I write for the gunshots I hear that still echo in my soul
That tell me somewhere a black life is being stole
I write to make a tomorrow come to this brother that ain't got no future
I write for the fake charges filed when they say your son is in the shooter
I write for the better days that go unseen and tomorrows that never come
I write for all the mothers that had their children killed by guns
For all the I love you's fathers never say to their sons

Why I Write

Nnamdi Chukwuocha

I speak to the children
The ones you could never reach
The ones that live in the streets
The ones you pass by
And don't even speak
Then you have the nerve
To go home and write poems about them
So I ask you
Why do you write?
See this ain't a poem
Its my life
See my words is my work
And my work is my words
So I don't have time for fancy wordplay
I am not that poet
Trying to shock you with metaphors
I am the one trying
To stop young boys from being locked behind metal doors
And for the little girls on my block
That don't know their pops
I tell them that they're beautiful, and that I love them
So that the first time a lil' knucklehead say it
They won't jump in the bed with him
I try to open their eyes to the Devil's illusion
During these periods of confusion
When their parents start to loose them
I am trying to find them
By using creative methods
To get the same parental messages across
Before their dreams get lost
Some people call me a poet
But really I am just a custodian of this chaos
And 24 hours a day I am on my job
And I am running
Its like my life is a marathon
Running to spend time with my own kids
And my kids that ain't mine
Balancing my time
Balancing my water and my wine
I live in between my lines
This ain't a poem, its my life
That's why I write

Reprinted from Our Work, Our Words...: Taking the Guns from Our Sons' Hands , iUniverse, 164 pages, 2008.

About the Author Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha are from Wilmington, Delaware. They are tutors, mentors, big brothers, community activists, leaders, summa cum laude grads, HBO Def Poets, soldiers, father-figures, teachers, nonprofit leaders, counselors, historians, master social workers, brothers, friends, fathers, and sons.

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