(The Virtues and Imperatives of “Good Trouble”)


Never give up; never give in; keep your eyes on the prize*


A sharecropper’s son,

He was no stranger to the buffets of Fortune

Offspring of a caste so habitually abused

He told his blind, demeaning country: I AM A MAN


Those Forty Acres and a Mule

Never left the page on which

Their pledge was scribbled. The demobilized

Hordes of ‘free’ Negro humanity


Wandered, homeless, in a strange American wilderness

Below the poverty line, below the Law

Quarry of lynch mobs, separate, so unequal

Their very humanity the subject of perverse debate


From an abyss so abominable

A stubborn Hope emerged

The future clear before its gaze

Its rousing song was Freedom Now


Tear gas and water cannon served the chorus to that song

With refrains by vicious dogs and bloody batons

Prisons brimming with Freedom Warriors

And the staccato rash of targeted assassinations . . . .


Yours, John, is the legacy of Good Trouble

Of boundless courage and the noble fight

From the Boy from Troy to the Conscience of Congress,

Your talk was clear, your walk was steady


Beyond hate

Above despair

Paragon of courage and candor

Who saw the rainbow behind the cloud


The Selma Bridge now wears a different paint

Its lineaments glittering in the Southern sun

Even as we keep on striving for the final lifting of

That knee on the Negro neck


* From one of John Lewis’s speeches


Niyi Osundare is one of Africa’s foremost poets and academics.