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The Middle Passage

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by Chris Henrikson

My ancestors came to me

Between the seams of Sweatlodge dreams

With a request for healing

Hearts muffled & torn by dead silence born

From horrors too big to face

Seeking grace on sacred ground

Paved with false promises


My ancestors came to me

To claim responsibility

For the rape and enslavement of millions

Of one, your son

Who was once elder, chief, healer

Of a tribe that knew nature and beauty

Like the river knows tears

My ancestors’ fears fed flames

That consumed original names & songs

Turned ancient healing rites to wrongs

Harnessed hell for profits that today

Build prisons to contain the same shame

Under different names:

Bloods, Crips, Surenos, Nortenos

Hatred fueled by wounds

That live in unmarked tombs

Watery graves between home and here

There are days when we are all slaves to fear

Smoking, drinking, fucking

To forget the dead and dying

Flying bombs far beyond backyards

Where bullets trace scars in night skies

Ripped wide by cries for help


How can one explain a baby

Sold like crack cocaine

As blood rains from her mother’s womb?


My ancestors came to me

With that blood on their hands

And the blood of every man-child

Murdered in drive-bys by living lies

Too high to heal

Running the streets between destiny & deceit

Every village burned

Every girl turned out by broken boys

Once token toys tossed aside

By uncles drunk on Night Train

Still staggering into children’s bedrooms

Mimicking slave masters orchestrating disasters

For future generations to deny


My ancestors came to me

With tears in their eyes

And taught me a song

That belongs to you & you & you

And maybe someday

Me too.



by Taylor Code

I am he who has been given life

By way of death

The moment the Middle Passage opened

Over blood warm water

Into a hurricane of pain

I set sail

Stripped of my name

Through the battle of Gettysburg

And beyond the bus boycotts of the South


My soul ship-wrecked on the shores of Los Angeles

When people stopped fighting with fists

And started shooting to kill

The most undesirable parts of themselves

And since I looked like so many of them

Seven bullets have found their home

In my plantation-branded flesh


I am he who has been given life

By way of death

Through the stress of a broken home

Dad a slave to opium dreams

Mom arguing with voices she can’t see

Sisters giving birth to babies of their own

Death and me have been tight

Since I was three


I am he who has been given life 

By way of death

Fear buried in

a tear-stained pillow

My peers said I’m too square 

To be cool

So books became my enemies

And the streets became school


I’ve been the fool who trades gold

For materials that depreciate with time

The hustler who hustles himself

Slangin’ quarters for a dime


I am he who has been given life

By way of death

As I remember to appreciate

The gift of my next breath

About the Author: Chris Henrikson & Taylor Code

Founder and Executive Director of Street Poets Inc., Chris Henrikson has over 20 years of experience teaching poetry and mentoring highly at-risk youth and young adults within and around the Los Angeles County educational and juvenile justice systems. Originally from Boston, Chris is a graduate of Duke University (B.A. English) and the American Film Institute (M.F.A. Screenwriting). He worked as an arts journalist in New York City and later as a screenwriter in Hollywood before a volunteer teaching stint in a Los Angeles County juvenile detention camp in 1995 inspired him to create Street Poets. Chris has served as a keynote speaker and on numerous conference panels exploring youth rites of passage, arts-based intervention strategies, multicultural community-building and alternatives to incarceration. Over the past decade, his efforts to initiate young people into lives full of meaning, passion and purpose have led him into the study and practice of the indigenous healing traditions of Africa and the Americas.

Taylor Code first connected with Street Poets almost 20 years ago as a 16-year-old participant in their writing workshop at an LA County juvenile detention camp. Today, Taylor serves as a teaching artist, restorative justice advocate, and proud father of four beautiful children. An accomplished poet and rapper, Taylor is a founding member of Street Poets’ spoken-word performance group, and has shared his redemptive story and creative work at criminal justice conferences, high schools and concert venues throughout the state of California and beyond. An expert in the field of gang intervention & recovery, Taylor has served as a speaker, panelist and presenter at numerous conferences, webinars and retreats. He currently attends Pasadena College, while teaching and advocating for more restorative rehabilitative practices within the criminal justice system. He also sits on the member board of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

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