The poet Ashley M. Jones wants far more than financial reparations to compensate for centuries of slavery and its legacies — though she would take a check. To her, true reparations require an enormous cultural evolution.
“You think money can ever repay what you stole?” she asks in her third poetry collection, “Reparations Now!,” which was published in September. “Give me land, give me all the blood you ripped out of our backs, our veins.”
“Give me the songs you said were yours but you know came out of our lips first,” she writes shortly after. “Give me back Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Give me back the beauty of my hair. The swell of my hips. The big of my lips. Give me back the whole Atlantic Ocean. Give me a never-ending blue. And a mule.”
Ms. Jones, a native of Birmingham, was recently named Alabama’s poet laureate, a position she will hold from 2022 to 2026. She is the first Black person and, at 31, the youngest person to have the title in the 91 years Alabama has named a poet laureate, a notable moment in the history of a state that is still grappling with its history of white supremacy and recently banned the teaching of critical race theory, which argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in American law and other modern institutions.