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Students Bring Spoken-Word Poetry to Convocation

By Dateline Staff on September 22, 2016 in University

"Poetry as Ceremony" Valentin Sierra ’17

Three students presented spoken-word poetry performances at the 2016 Fall Convocation, Sept. 20, in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. All three are participants in Sacramento Area Youth Speaks, or SAYS, founded at UC Davis in 2009. We present here videos of each performance, and the words.

Poetry as Ceremony

By Valentin Sierra ’17, Native American studies major


When I’m stuck in writing my words
I think of my ancestors here beneath these four walls
what does it mean to teach on stolen land?
to be here in higher education
where we speak of words like social justice and diversity
but pay no mind to the original peoples of this land

to be here, this place, this university
It stands to unravel me
listen when I tell you

I am majoring in Native American studies

If you came here just to get a degree
At least let me talk to you about culture
The traditions ingrained in the soil
Our ceremonies to welcome the flowers as they bloom
Our songs that keep the sun rising every morning for our 8 a.m. classes

 Valentin Sierra on stage.
Valentin Sierra

when I’m stuck in writing my words
I think of the future, seven generations forward
Now that you're in college they will you what your major is

And if you came here premed in neurobiology, physiology & behavior
An engineering, psychology or animal science major

A tough first quarter is okay
a tough first year is okay
a tough 4 years is okay

when I’m stuck in my writing
I place the words from my tribe's language

Lois em chaniavu
May the creator keep close

I want you to look me in the eye and tell me what you see
Nation to Nation, brown hands on brown hands
Always with glitter

Singing Yaqui deer songs in the arboretum
Putting tobacco down before midterms
Classes in Wellman
Here Native American history is taught as an elective
a class you all should take
But like really though, y’all should take NAS5

Gathering sweet grass
We remember the Patwin people
Taken to the missions
The ones we learned about in 4th-grade class

This is our history
The history of California
The University of California

When you’re stuck in writing your words
Remember education as liberation
Rez girls for life, straight from the barrio
you finally have an answer to the question:
what is your major?

Welcome, Aggie Class of 2020!

Great Teachers

By Takarra Johnson ’19, African American studies major


Brothers and sisters walking the streets misunderstood
Limitless potential but we never understood hope
Souls and pockets broken with our minds open
We are because of what already is
Uplifted and empowered by my village
Mama went to great lengths to provide for her kids
So I reciprocate boss ladies who handle their business

If we’re the worse in society, why are we still surviving?

A cycle is defined as a series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order

Kept alive by keeping the same things going


Incubated into our culture
Rich traditions that serve as the detriment to our communities

We keep them going
But for once,

The cycles
Have been broken

This cycle is like Michael moonwalking
For the first time on prime time
But the appeal is to the systems that get money
for the cycle to repeat.
born, school, leave facility, to be institutionalized and beat
Power comes in many forms, but is MOST LIBERATING when found in the form of education
Breaking barriers

 Takaraa Johnson at podium.
Takarra Johnson

Pushing past limits
We are free because we can think
(not because we are free to think)

Comes in many forms but is MOST LIBERATING when it comes in the form of
critical thought
Critically-thinking leaders
Who are built to break cycles

What’s worse than the curse in the verse of the child who has never touched the mic before?

Never been empowered by platform
Give our babies a stage and
Watch cycles
Break by the hands of babes
Watch truth utter
From the mouths of babes
We are babes demanding quality
Not waiting for Superman, but creating superman
Every loose end of great teaching tied together by the willpower of deserving students
We are testaments to liberation
Liberation through education
Free your mind and
Free yourself from these cycles

Thank you Mr teacher for the space and opportunity
For learning just as much as you teach
For listening just as much as you speak

Thank you for understanding me
Thank you for not abandoning me
I’m just patient enough to see what manifests from my seed

When I see your eyes I see the hope you have for me
You undoubtedly know my strengths and only hope to pull more out of me
You spend more time in the classroom than you do at home
Never too busy to lend a ear to our heart song

You’re a real model because your influence is way too powerful to merely fill a role

This is for the good teacher
The hero
Educators whose wages are paid in promise
You know our stories
You're always honest. I thank you for being the light at the end of the
institutionalized tunnels

Lessons are most effective when they’re relevant

We learned to be servants
avoid the prison industrial complex,
The message is complex

Learning everyday to fight for our education

Explain Please

By Denisha Bland ’18, communication major


Sitting in juvenile court
Staring down the hall
Asking myself
Why do I see all y'all

All my beautiful black and brown faces
With the few white sprinkles here and there
Depressed looks on their faces
Hand twitching why they're in the chair


Am I going home I am I going downstairs
Downstairs to that place where I am all their’s ...

Can somebody explain to me?

How is it that
They can just take them away away from their moms
Because they didn't abide by the rules of Uncle Tom

We just kids
kids from the ghetto

 Denisha Bland on stage.
Denisha Bland

There’s a liquor store on every corner of my block ... Don’t wear the wrong colors or you may end up shot!

It’s a life-and-death situation out here on the streets ... You better wear a vest to stay strapped with the heat!

Protect yourself by any means necessary find my dolla, is what they always told me

America was founded on Gangsta activity!
It’s not the kids
They just allies gone astray in the streets
It’s the government fought
That’s why the kids are followers lost!

Can somebody explain to me?

Why we try to go to school
As soon as we enter the class
the teacher says “bye-bye, We’re not getting paid enough why should I?
Care for kids who don’t care for self
That’s just one less Brother we have to worry about getting wealth.”

Can somebody explain to me?

Why a young girl say, “I want to be a dancer”
Adult tell her, “she looks like somebody who want to dance on a pole.”
Shatter the child’s whole dreams
now she walking street nights, cold!

Can somebody explain to me?

Why public pretender
Says “take the case it’ll be close about time you’re 18”
“What you mean
By the time I’m 18
So you mean to tell me if I pop something at 23 they won’t bring up when I did at 18?
Woman please
I’m trying to live and be free
my mama always tell me hit back of somebody put their hands on me.”

Can somebody explain to me?

Why all my beautiful black and brown faces
Sitting here waiting for the judge’s speech
Juvenile offenders
Minors facing life at the age of 13

Can somebody explain to me?

Why we live like we do?
Is it we or society?
We’re losing our kids
To a system not set up for them to win

Can somebody explain to me, why?

An officer has three choices
When it come to arrest a teen
And choose number three
Place the minor in custody and refer the case to a juvenile facility.

Can somebody explain to me, why?

The system in screwed from what I can see
Which is why all my black and brown faces sitting here to take the plea.

About the author(s)

Dateline Staff Dave Jones, editor, can be reached at 530-752-6556 or Cody Kitaura, news and media relations specialist, can be reached at 530-752-1932 or