We can’t breathe
when we think of Martin Luther King and what he did to change the world
when we think of young folks getting killed for no reason
when we think of people who tried to help the world.
-excerpt of “We Can’t Breathe” by Astarea J. Wright, 6th grader at Learn 8 Middle School in Chicago, IL
When Chicago middle schooler Astarea J. Wright thinks about Martin Luther King, she thinks about a man who “tried to change the world.” More than 50 years after King’s march on Washington, protests in Birmingham, and peaceful fight for justice and civil rights, his words still ring loud and clear for young people like Astarea.
Supported by her teacher, TFA alumna Alyson Makstein, Astarea recently wrote the above poem, “We Can’t Breathe,” as part of the Poet Warriors Project, a program that introduces poetry to middle school students across the country as a means of positive expression. Astarea, who has lived in Chicago her whole life, describes her neighborhood as “not a good place for children…with a lot of shooting, fighting, and drama.”
School, on the other hand, is a refuge. Astarea says, “The best thing about school is learning new things with your friends.” She decided to include Dr. King in her poem because of his efforts to end segregation, and because “it’s important for students to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., so they can try to be like him and change the world.”