the elephant.

i wrote a new slam poem. and it's very important that it's shared. disclaimer: i realize there is language in this video, but i am only repeating what people have say to/at me. even so, not everything is gosh golly goodnesses and oopsies. sometimes it's the N word. and yes, it has been directed to me.

Talk about how your friends laugh and say oh! You scared me. It was so dark I couldn't see you. Talk about how you were one of the last people found during games of hide and seek because you were so good at hiding in your skin. Talk about how that's not right. Talk about invisibility as if it's your duty because you're tired of other black girls asking why you so bougie. Talk about the ideas you won't use in this poem because you don't think they will improve the silence that has already hollowed out your soul. It's been seventeen years and I haven't spoken up for myself once. 

I used to tell my parents stories about how at swim practice Kyle or Preston would say something stupid and I would combat it perfectly, the air becoming a chorus of "oohs" and "you just got burns" but that never happened. Usually when someone said something insulting I would crack open a smile and laugh with everyone else, putting my head down as if I were an ass submitting to its master. 

My mom and I have had several talks about how it's okay to stop a conversation to speak up and let everyone know how I feel. With each opportunity I find myself withdrawing deeper and deeper into the caverns of regret. 

You see, when I was little me and all my friends from church used to have school together at the psalmist's house. I remember bible stories with our children's church leader and twix yogurt after lunch but mostly I remember being asked "Jocelyn, why can't you colour inside the lines? Jocelyn, why don't you write with your right hand? Jocelyn, you're not funny." We were less than five years old and I had already stopped talking. One of the biggest lessons I learned in my K-12 years was that if no one respected your voice, there was no pointing in using it. 

As I got older, the questions and statements changed. "Jocelyn, you can't be First Lady of the United States that's not a real job. Jocelyn, how can you not understand that joke? Jocelyn, no one else thinks Little House On the Prairie is cool."

When my mom began training me to become a leader, one of the first things she did was teach me how to speak publicly. She made me look her in the eye and recite poems that I had written, poems from the curriculum we were using. And I hated it because she made me laugh and I hated it because I didn't want anyone to give me reason why I was not welcome, or worthy. I still get nervous talking to bank tellers, I still get nervous talking to people on the phone, I still wonder if anyone wants to hear me speak or if their silence is a tired form of being polite. 

All during my high school career the questions got louder and louder and my voice became softer and softer. I am a freshman in college now and my mom cannot hear my voice even when she is sitting in front of me. 

They ask "Jocelyn, why do you dress like that? Jocelyn, why don't you like rap music? Jocelyn, why must you act so white?" They say "Jocelyn, you can't compose music for the movies, that's what men do. Jocelyn, the only think black about you is your ashy skin. Jocelyn, you're just a knock-off nigger."

Someone once asked me why I couldn't just speak up for myself. I told them when an elephant is captured and taken from its home, the person who kidnapped it chains its feet to iron shackles at a post. No matter how hard the elephant pulls against it the skin breaks but the iron holds fast. After awhile, the master replaces the iron with a pile of rope and the elephant does not move. It is easier to be still than deepen the gashed about its ankles, it is easier to stay silent than to speak and be hurt is the process. 

"Jocelyn, why is your YouTube channel called joceeisawesome? I think that's a little conceited, don't you? Jocelyn, you remind me of the light, bright, and wannabe white people from the Tyler Perry films, you know, the ones who try to forget their roots."

I have been trying to make roots with my words but what good is that if I cannot so much as open my mouth? These wounds have been reopened so many times that no balm, no cocoa butter can heal them. 

My best friend says I'm soft-spoken. I've known her four years and she's gotten used to the lack of volume in my voice but the last time we where at camp, I expressed my annoyance about something and she jumped, saying "oh my God. I haven't heard you speak that loudly all summer."

I am seventeen years old and I have not spoken up for myself once. "Jocelyn, speak up I can't hear you. Jocelyn speak up I can't hear you Jocelyn, speak up I can't hear you. Jocelyn how do you spell that? Jocelyn I didn't expect you to have such a pretty name."

The reason I am having so much trouble sharing this with you is because when I transfer the written word to my tongue, I feel as though something is lost in translation, that if you actually listen to me you'll think it's not as serious or dramatic as I'm making it seem. But I am almost eighteen years old. If I do not speak now, I never will. 

I am not your nigga, your nigger, I am not a mat that you can just walk all over me, I do not wish to be white I wish to fulfill the promise God has placed in my life, I am a daughter of the most high who was stoned and persecuted for His words. Sticks and stones will break my bones but I will not be soft-spoken with my words anymore.
-kiss kiss kiss, ooh girl-


  1. by the end of this, I had chills, and my eyes were burning like I was going to cry. I wish I could just give you a hug right now because not speaking up is something I have fought for so long, and this spoke words out of my heart. You are a brilliant daughter of the King, Jocee, and He is speaking his words through your beautiful and strong voice. thank you for this

  2. This is unspeakably beautiful and powerful. Believe me when I say: people twice your age are still learning these lessons. The world can be a rough place-- hold on to your softness, but don't let anyone walk over you. You are so beautiful and wise beyond your years.

  3. Girl, you gave me goosebumps. You need to keep speaking up because your words matter and they are beautiful.

  4. this reminds me of sara bareilles's brave. and yes, girl, you really are brave and beautiful and powerful! :)

  5. That was so sincere, so familiar and so beautiful! I am way past 18 and still looking for ways to speak out! Continue to be strong!

  6. Your words have such power, and you have been given such a beautiful gift. This really impacted me!

  7. Wow. Just, wow. You are such a beautiful writer and an even more powerful speaker. Your voice seriously has the perfect combination of gentleness and strength, I truly hope I can master mine to sound like that one day.

  8. jocee, I love you. I was so excited to see you had another slam poem. you are fantastic.

  9. oh my god. i believe you, and i'm with you, although i'm sure you weren't looking for anyone to believe you; you know that all of this is true because you've felt it. and i understand what you meant when you said that, in speaking, words are lost because i feel that every day. this is probably the most powerful thing that i have ever seen. you are so brave.


sometimes i do not understand why you guys like me so much, but the fact that you do (and that you keep coming around) makes me happier than you can even imagine.

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