(Prayer offered on the Public Address system for the entire La Salle Academy educational community on Wednesday morning, 13 February 2019—Black History Month)
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of a loving God.
Words, with their power and potential, have always fascinated me. This is not surprising coming from an English teacher. Throughout my life I have been inspired by countless authors whose words and works have shaped me, comforted me, and challenged me. And while this list includes the expected names like Shakespeare and Dickinson, the author with the most profound impact on me is the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith.
Her impressive list of awards includes the Cave Canemen prize for best first book by an African-American Poet, and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Life on Mars.
I had the privilege of taking her Poetry class in 2011 while she was still a professor in my Master’s Program. What astounded me most about her was not her accolades but the deep humanity of her presence and her spoken and written words.
While she was still quite young, Tracy began to understand the role language plays in the world. In her memoir entitled Ordinary Light, Tracy recalls a TV show from her childhood that made her feel connected and inspired her. She writes,
“Gettin’ to Know Me,” [was] the only show I’d ever seen that focused on a black girl – not only on her but on her parents and little brother and grandparents as well. It took her entire world into consideration instead of making her a satellite to more prominent white characters. In every episode, the girl, who would have been just a little older than me with neat braids or bushy loose ponytail, learned about Black History from her grandmother…The girl on “Gettin’ to Know Me” never clammed up when she felt herself getting close to the pain of Home. She knew which questions to ask. She was brave, strong in her sense of what that heavy history added up to…
It is this history that is part of Tracy’s focus in her current mission as Poet Laureate.
In a recent cross country tour called “American Conversations” Tracy’s goal was to help others see the “humanizing power of poetry.” She believes that, “poems put us in touch with our most powerful memories, feelings, questions and wishes,” and that, “talking about poems might be a way of leaping past small-talk and collapsing the distance between strangers.”
During Black History Month it is important not only to remember the towering figures of the past but also the very real and very powerful individuals present in our lives today who continue to inspire the conversations that bring us all closer together..
Let us pray,
Tracy’s poetry and prose reminds us that we all possess the power to transform the world in which with live. Let us pray that words can indeed have the power Tracy, and so many others believe they can to transform, challenge, and unite.
Help us to live with a strong connection to our own humanity and in doing so become closer to each other and to you.
And, like the little girl in Gettin’ to Know Me, please help us know which questions to ask and, when we get the answers, to be strong in our sense of what history adds up to.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle…Pray for us
Live Jesus in our Hearts…Forever
Emily McLean–English Teacher