To watch the poem mentioned in this excerpt, click here.
“To be woman and black is to be born knowing your beauty does not belong to you… Is to know you’re not desirable to your own kind,” Crystal Valentine thunders on the stage of the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
The force of the power of Valentine’s voice, pushing those words out, imprint the rhythms and sounds into any listener’s brain.
Play just a few seconds of Valentine’s performance of “To Be Black and Woman and Alive” with fellow slam poet Aaliyah Jihad, and it is no surprise that Valentine won the competition to be New York City’s Youth Poet Laureate.
What is surprising is that the 20-year-old who pierces audiences with brutally poignant lines, like “Black privilege is me pretending I know Trayvon Martin on a first-name basis,” describes herself as a “painfully shy” child.
“I never knew how to interact with my environment. I didn’t know myself. I feared rejection. In middle school, I was bullied a bit,” Valentine recalls to the Daily Beast. “I realized people didn’t really listen to what I had to say.”
Valentine grew up in the Bronx just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. She says she realized she could change the alienation and silence she felt as a child when she performed poetry.