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Jason Reynolds at the Lit.Cologne literature festival in Cologne, Germany
Jason Reynolds at Lit.Cologne, a literature festival in Cologne, Germany, on March 16, 2016. Rolf Vennenbernd / picture alliance via Getty Images file

Black History Uncensored: Jason Reynolds' poetic ode to young dreamers

Award-winning author Jason Reynolds has been targeted with right-wing book bans nationwide. His poem "For Every One" shows why his work is so valuable.


My friends, what a joy this month has been. This first iteration of "Black History, Uncensored" has served its purpose. But rest assured, there's more in store.

We set out to defy conservative bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Doing this meant not only reading the authors they discourage reading, but exploring these authors’ works with more depth and empathy than right-wing book-banners have been willing to offer. 

Each of these authors has laid out a more worthy vision of what the United States ought to be than anyone in today's Republican Party.

And in today’s political climate, looking at these authors holistically is an act of revolution. Many Republicans would much rather we, as readers, cherrypick the authors’ most provocative lines and infer the worst things imaginable about them. And I think the past month of coverage has shown why. 

Far from the anti-American hell-raisers conservatives make them out to be, each of these authors has laid out a more worthy vision of what the United States ought to be than anyone in today's Republican Party. The authors all speak and write of antiracism not as an end goal, per se, but as a step toward a more fulfilling life for the victims and perpetrators of racism. And fervent attempts to hide their work suggests this revelation is dangerous to a conservative movement obsessed with white, racist grievance

But they won’t win. I was affirmed of this a few weeks back when an adolescent cousin of mine recommended I watch a poem his class had screened, written and performed by the author Jason Reynolds. 

That is, the award-winning author Jason Reynolds, whose works have been targeted with right-wing book bans. (One of them, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” is co-written by Ibram X. Kendi, who was also featured in this Black history series.)

The poem, titled “For Every One,” is an ode to dreamers. And one particular passage, about overcoming fear and self-doubt, has stuck with me since I first read it a few weeks ago.

In the context of a modern-day American classroom, where many students are being encouraged to reject Black authors, the passage sounds like a warning of the dangers in losing curiosity, and a call for people never to lose their desire to do better.

Reynolds wrote in his 2018 poem:

What I do know is how it feels.

How it feels 

When that spirit thing

Won’t stop

Raking the metal mug

Across your rib cage, 


Like a machine gun fired at a church bell,

Vibrating everything

Irreverent inside.

Sounds like a prison


that only you

can hear

and feel.

And nasty things 

are being said 

about the prison guard--

that scared


oppressive part 

of you


If you are

anything like me, 

you hope

it never stops. 

You hope the

bubbling never 

dies down 

and the yearning to 

break out and

break through 

never simmers.


the voice that 

delivers the 

loudest whispers 

of what you envision never silences.

That it never cowers behind fear 

and expectations that other people 

strap to your life 

like a backpack full of bricks

(or books written by experts). 

Because if it did

if it disappeared, 

if the voices vanished 

and you were no longer 

overtaken by the

taunts of your own 


no longer blinded 

by your perfect vision

of your purpose, 

no longer engorged 

with passion,

what would happen?

Well, I guess nothing. 

And to me, there is nothing scarier than nothing.