Safety has never been an option for me. I am Black in a white world that

sees my body as a threat to their existence. I have sent my life walking carefully,

not wanting anyone to mistake me for a monster, knowing that my the brown of

my shoulders I have already been labeled as such. Even when I am surrounded

by blackness, I am a queer light in a room flooded by heteronormativity. I have

seen bodies like mine chopped up and tossed on the side of the road, failed

science experiments to see if it really is the blood that makes us sweet. Safety

has never known my name. Safety doesn't know I exist, and if it does, safety is

my enemy.

By definition and circumstance, I am a being of bravery & risk. I have

survived this long on the rations of justice handed out to me, the scraps off the

plates of Dwayne 'Gully Queen' Jones or Oscar Grants plates long gone cold

and empty. I am lucky not to be dead or incarcerated, though I can't escape the

institutions that surround me, as I write this in my University of Wisconsin hoodie

and Malcolm X medallion, a contradiction of history and privilege. I thank god

every day for the bullets that missed, for the cops that drove by, for each night

that shows me enough mercy not to swallow and forget my name. For me, living

is a political action, my everyexhale is a protest. For every step I take outside of

my home is an act of bravery, everyday I dare to be black and breathing is a risk

I take in the face of a world that holds me to the fish my ancestors lay with at the

bottom of the Atlantic.

These truths are what drive me to change the world I persist in. How can I

not, whenever second there is a brown boy born who will learn to hid the switch

in his walk, who will learn to hid his smile from the boy across the lunch table?

How can I not fight back when the world that seeks to end me has armed itself

with fist and guns and legislation it plans to use to his member my body? Either

like a wiser man or a fool, I have armed myself with education and art, for I

believe in healing and the possibility of light in this darkness, though there are

days I question my own weapons. There are also days when I feel like a poem or

a lesson plan is the best ammunition available to combat the world that laughs

as it watches itself implode.

Now, I question the spaces where I do this work. Do I stay in the public

schools that are desperate for a reboot, or do I find alternative access points to

the young minds that are the architects my and our co-founders for a better

world? Do I work for within the master's house, using my tools to dismantle for

the inside out, or do I use those tools to build my own home? Do I stay with in

system, or counter it? Do operate in a system, taking risk within safe limits, or do

I actually commit myself to taking the risk and making something where there

was nothing before? Do I build the bridge or jump the gap? If this is a question I

am actually considering, then why am I running full speed towards the cliff? Why

do I continue to pray for wings?

Danez Smith is a proud Cave Canem Fellow, 2-time Pushcart Nominee, Best New Poets Nominee, Survivor & avid twerker from St. Paul, MN. Danez started writing because of slams & necessity, & placed 6th in the world at the 2011 Individual World Poetry Slam & is the 2013 Rustbelt Midwest Regional Slam Champion. 

He started really messin' with the page around 21, & was recently he was a finalist for the 2013 Rattle Poetry Prize. He is the author of 'hands on ya knees', a chapbook published by Penmanship Books. His full-length collection, '[insert] Boy, will be published in 2014 by Yes Yes Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gertrude, Devil's Lake, PANK, The Cortland Review, Anti-, & elsewhere. Danez, as a poet, performer & playwright, has taken his work across the country to schools, community centers, poetry venues, and theatres across the country, as well as aboard in places like the UK, Mexico, Switzerland, and Panama, where he co-founded a bilingual education program with the US Embassy. His One-Man Theatre Production "For Those Who Pray In Closets" has received critical acclaim and outstanding praise at every turn. He is an assistant editor for Muzzle Magazine. 

He likes tattoos, piercings, reading good poems, and every once and a while, he writes one too. He thinks poems, like black people, are the shit & he thinks you look good today, now werk!