NC’s 1st African-American poet laureate reflects on Juneteenth, what it means in troubling times

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HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) – “Oh my brother, my brother, I will weep for you whenever the sun rises or falls. Your shadow has been betrayed.”

A quote from the poem “Oh My Brother” and the words of Jaki Shelton Green. She is North Carolina’s first African-American poet laureate. “Oh My Brother” rings like the bell we hear tolling across America today.

Green was appointed in 2019 on Juneteenth. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 that the city of Galveston, Texas was told that all enslaved persons were free. It took months after the end of the Civil War for word to arrive to the remote area.

“But also, right now, I think it’s a time to remember that we must not repeat many of our historical anecdotes; that they need to rest. It is the time to reflect on how we go forward as a humanity. And, in recent weeks, how there’s a pause how things stop that acceleration of moving forward,” Green said.

Recent weeks have been troubling for most Americans. As someone who spent her life documenting and reliving through written word, Green shares that journey whenever she can. That includes classrooms across North Carolina filled with young minds.

There’s a saying that “all politics are local.” Well, Green said all change is local, too.

“We’re inside of a global issue, but if we don’t scratch locally so all the scratching connects and there is an even playing ground, then we totally miss why people are dying in the streets. We have work to do on a local level,” she said.

Don’t just know your neighbor’s name, but know who they are as a person.

“If we enlarge the cookout, we enlarge the conversation. And who are the least expected people to be at your cookout? Those are the people that should be there,” Green said. “How are we building communities through our faith-based organizations and workplaces. The opportunities are right there. Right there.”

North Carolina’s state motto is “To be rather than to seem.”

“It’s a good time to be American. It’s a good time to be on North Carolinians. It’s a good time to be thinking about who we all become,” Green said.

On June 19, the Orange County native will release her first album, “The River Speaks of Thirst” with various artists performing Green’s works of poetry.

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