Black History Month

The Environment And Being Black In America Intersect In This Thought-Provoking Poem

"I am blooming with silence."

It only took one comment from a student to inspire Pages Matam's politically powerful poem about the importance of Black lives.

Matam recently performed "Black Lives, Tigers, and Bears" at a poetry slam in Greensboro, North Carolina, a piece exploring what it would be like if people critiqued environmental issues the way they approach racial inequality among Black Americans.

In the poem, Matam describes the origins of the poem, discussing how he was teaching a class on the environment when someone asked him why it was important to care about environmental issues. When Matam answered that it was important to care so people don't end up going extinct right on earth, another student responded that as a young Black boy in America, he already feels like he's going extinct.

"And for the first time, I am blooming with silence," Matam said in the poem.

Throughout "Black Lives, Tigers, and Bears," Matam finds ways to tell the audience what they would hear if the Black Lives Matter movement was an environmental movement instead, using examples such as #AllFlowersMatter if there were trouble plaguing a specific type of flower, or ignoring the growing deaths of tigers by citing "tiger-on-tiger crime."

But most of all, Matam uses the poem as a way to bring attention to the fact that students like his own won't care about the environment when they don't feel like their own lives aren't valued, and reminds them that their lives matter.

"So I tell my students, you are not extinction," he said. "You're an echo of brilliance so coarse that thick forests will grow in your name. You've got a light so loud that it could photosynthesize any heart."

Watch the entire performance below:


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