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Artist Cyrus Roberts begins the performance of his piece “Poplar Tree” by squatting in front of a tree with rope hanging from the tree behind his head Artist Cyrus Roberts begins the performance of his piece “Poplar Tree” by squatting in front of a tree with rope hanging from the tree behind his head Photo: Cyrus Roberts


Jun. 16, 2021

Young poets of Get Lit share powerful words to commemorate the day

In honor of Juneteenth, we, at Archewell, connected with our friends at Get Lit and asked them to share poetry to honor this important day. We hope their poignant words allow you to reflect on the significance of this newly declared federal holiday in the United States and its impact across this country and around the world. 

And hold, and hold

Cortunay Minor and Tamia Jackson

Why they wrote this poem:

“When I wrote this poem, just a few weeks before June 15th, Juneteenth wasn’t yet a federal or national holiday. It wasn’t something I’d given much thought to, but when I had recognized that fact, it wasn’t information, it was confirmation. At first, I was upset about it. My immediate thoughts were along the lines of, ‘Where are our fireworks? Where’s our three-day weekend?’ But in reflection, I realized that this was demonstrating continued deference to a supposedly superior entity. Juneteenth isn’t the ‘Black Independence Day,’ it’s the only Independence Day. To have that nationally recognized feels amazing. But whether or not the date is printed in every calendar does not validate this holiday. We do.”

Why she animated this piece:

“This poem, especially for Juneteenth, really inspired me. The color palette expresses the somber yet hopeful emotions that happen when black freedom is discussed, and what it means to be a Black individual in America. This poem as well as the visuals really emphasizes the impact that Black people have by simply existing, and the importance of our breath. We know that as long as we’re still breathing there can and will be change, and ultimately full freedom.”

About the author:

Cortunay Minor (she/they) is a performing artist who specializes in Stage Acting and Spoken Word Poetry. They are currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Theater from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. The theme and goal that Minor tries to hold in the heart of their artistry is liberation, be that emotional, intellectual, or otherwise. Expression and education are two of the most fruitful paths Minor has found that achieve that liberation, and she is immensely grateful to be able to participate in a craft that allows their simultaneous occurrence. 

About the animator:

Tamia Jackson (animator) is a rising senior at the Rhode Island School of Design, receiving her BFA in Film/Animation/Video with a minor in Literary Arts and Studies. She has always been passionate in art, animation, and storytelling. She loves bringing stories of lesser voices, such as BIPOC, low income, female, etc., into a visual and cared-for light. Though not all of her stories or animations revolve around such identities, it is important that she shows diversity so that many people can relate and find comfort in the characters or art piece. Not only does Jackson enjoy spreading her own voice, but she also loves bringing others’ stories to life. 

And hold, and hold

‘Holiday’ meaning ‘Holy Day’ meaning:
every second is sacred/every hour hibernates
within the spirit, huddled beneath the bosom. 

 To breathe is to commemorate:
inhale – exhale – cradle the thought – hold – and repeat. 

When daybreak demotes breath to subconscious action,
the diaphragm still submits in reverence, still remembers that

This is Divine. This
is where jubilation begins:

in the suspension of
breathe in – breathe out – take maybe – and 

forever hold the moment,
where the deferred dream stopped shriveling,
wavered in anticipation, remembered that expansion
can be soft,
recognized that it didn’t want soft

Bodies were policied out of possession, but
the Black individual liberated their own being,
hollered themself out of state-sanctioned silence. 

Words ignite, but presence sustains; this intake/expel maintains us
the dream explodes. The spirit absorbs the remnants and outpours,

‘holiday’ meaning ‘Holy Day’ meaning:
I hold this day as sovereign. Meaning:
I hope this day knows its home is in these lungs,
is in this breath, is in the repetition of:

inspire – expire – immortalize the memory – and hold – and hold – and release 

Poplar Trees

Cyrus Roberts

Why he wrote and directed this poem:

“It’s easy to say “slavery was an atrocity and we need to do better” but it’s much more difficult to say “slave masters ripped babies from their mothers and used them as crocodile bait for sport.” In the average American lexicon, phrases like ‘Never Forget’ are commonplace but are rarely attributed to periods of fundamental, ongoing violence of a racial nature for the simple fact that our pain makes the people who benefitted from that pain uncomfortable. For me Juneteenth is a day of mourning; the Confederate holidays still celebrated today seem like a gruesome counterbalance. So this is my eulogy to both the country and my own being that could have been.” 

About the author:

Cyrus Roberts (he/him) writes, acts, and directs across poetry, theater, and film. While his work has been commissioned by organizations like Toms Shoes, Adidas, and March For Our Lives, he also enjoys working on cool independent projects, whether he’s self-publishing poetry compilations, creating movies with friends, or acting in his own plays. Roberts is currently a senior in UC Santa Barbara’s BFA Acting program. Look for him in the upcoming film Summertime, directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada. His assistant director on the project was Matte Kranz. 

Poplar Trees

Before you there was me. But before me there was (Nina Simone audio: “black bodies swinging”). And that was the gentler time period. Everything base within you, reflected in your actions. Please don’t censor me when I mention how you wrangled our teeth from our mouths and used them to seduce your own illnesses into submission. Or how you took an interest in the skin that had a monopoly on sunlight and then took what you wanted underneath the moon. Or how you used our babies as crocodile bait and our skin as shoe leather. Look right into the eyes of our demise and try to say those times are past, that I’m being rash, that I’m being bad and so full of woe and I should be glad I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro. Yeah? Who am I to complain about slavery? Because it ended, right? On June 19, 1865, Union Army general Gordon Granger made his way to Texas and proclaimed slavery’s supposed fall and us colored folk supposed to have a ball? I mean it was two and a half years after Lincoln already announced it, but we needed a white man to tell other white men what another white man already said. I mean that is until that white man found himself dead and Reconstruction found itself at a head and chain gangs, sharecropping, Jim Crow, private prison options, perc popping, bodies dropping, cops still stopping, guns cocking to ensure that (Nina Simone audio: “black bodies swinging”). Every 19th of June we celebrate the end of chattel slavery and every 20th we’re back to fighting its descendants. Private prisons / a cop’s knee is a modern lynching / it ain’t my decision to get busy dyin’ or busy living / I paid attention, to all the digitized depictions / all the people packing up pensions while we’re backed up by the system. Put your back into the system, this is wack how mother’s missing their babies kisses and I’m supposed to be celebrating? I’m sorry. Will you forgive me, I’m jaded. My grandmother looks at me and says confidently that I made it. That she can’t possibly imagine the life that I’m living, I owe a debt to her generation, and I hope that I pay it. I just get so angry, hazy laughter at the thought of thoughts and prayers ending enslavement. So after you hear me, I’ll forgive you if you’re jaded. But you still need to know the history to have an appreciation. It’s no mystery why it’s a mystery present in our education, presently the gatekeepers keep us from it and it’s heinous. On Juneteenth, Americans across the nation eat red foods in honor of the blood spilled before and during emancipation, we celebrate the secondary, pushed-to-the-side independence day, but you don’t have to know our proclamations of jubilation for us to be heard. We will be heard in our voices screaming thanks that we are not treated as herd. We dance and we sing hymns of freedom. Freedom: absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. Are my brothers and sisters in jail cells free? When there’s a glaring loophole in the 13th amendment smiling from cheek to cheek I’d imagine there’d be some incentive to ensure our purity is never free. And how can I be free when I can’t sleep because my dreams keep whispering I can’t breathe. Regardless of that fact, progress is still being made. But I fear progress is just an exchange of chains for other chains. Same way they changed our names for other names, I rest a bouquet on the graves of enslaved, singing regardless this day. In the hopes that I never again have to see (Nina Simone audio: “black bodies swinging”).


Sierra Leone Anderson

Why she wrote this poem:

When writing this poem, I really made an effort to think back to my ancestors. What was their impact? Who did they inspire? How did they carve the path for the road I now choose to take? This poem is about legacy. I am calling back to the ancestors before me to give me the strength and courage to be the ancestor I want to be to future generations.”

About the author:

Sierra Leone Anderson (poet) is a youth activist and professional spoken word artist from Los Angeles. Rooted in liberatory joy and armed with ancestral truth, Sierra Leone aims to bring light to the power of language, empowering Los Angeles youth of color to recognize the quantifiable influence of their voice. She has placed both second and first in Get Lit’s annual middle and high school Classic Slam respectively, co-wrote an article for the political column of USA Today, and has shared space with several influential changemakers including Dr. Melina Abdullah (co-founder of BLM-LA) and Cecily Myart-Cruz (president of UTLA). Her other organizing work includes collaborating with Students Deserve LA to make Black Lives Matter in and beyond schools. She is currently a ninth grade student at Girls Academic Leadership Academy and an avid lover of trashy teenage dramedies. 

Her director and editor is Lukas Lane, an award-winning filmmaker and founding member of Literary Riot (started in his junior year of high school), and he is currently attending UC Berkeley.


Every generation, the world gives birth to a new fleet of freedom fighters.
I am one of them.
I stand on the shoulders of tired women.
I dance in the footsteps of Pan-African poets, liberation fighters, and Black writers
who grew fires from a pit hungrier than a stomach. They call my name and I call theirs.
Malcolm X. Phyllis Wheatley. Maya Angelou. Sojourner Truth. Audre Lorde. Ida B. Wells.
Your resilience rivers through me. You are my founding fathers. The blueprint to a world we need to be brave enough to see, to seek. 

Let us imagine a world in which we know each other’s palms
and never the fist. Not unless needed. Not unless united together. 

Let us be the drum and not the war.
Let us know each other’s names and not the languages we cry in. 

Let us be, let all us be more than a slave’s wildest dream
Let us beam past blueprints and what-ifs and start becoming the now we want to see, the now we want to be 

Trees growing so far past the Earth, Allah would mistake our bodies for angels.
When I die, I want to ripple through lifetimes. I want my name to graffiti the mouths of the next 10 generations. 

I don’t want to be forgotten. Or remembered for the way my feet wouldn’t stop running. 

I wanna grow roots in this soil, in this American skin. Join the forest of my ancestors. Let my grandkids climb up my branches and tell stories of school.
And before the first pulse of morning, I want them to drip from their homes and gather at my roots. 

I want to tell them my name before I forget it.
I want to tell them that morning is coming. And will always come. And will never wait for when you are ready. 

I want to tell them that there is a point far beyond this tree, this forest, this temporary point in time, their bodies, their fears, their fathers, their memories. Where the sun is eternal and smiling. Where freedom rings and is never silent, never out of reach. It is called horizon. And it is right there. 

We love having you here…

But we’re mindful of screen time. Why not take a break? We’ll be here.