Black Lives Matter Poems

#BlackLivesMatter was popularized in July 2013 when an African-American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Later, it became the name of a decentralized political and social movement protesting against the brutality and violence against black people.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been depicted in songs, literature, film, television, and the visual arts. The following poems feature the events of brutality against the black people and how their voices are muted.

This Is Not a Small Voice

by Sonia Sanchez

‘This Is Not a Small Voice’ by Sonia Sanchez is a well-loved poem that celebrates the power of Black men, women, and children, as well as their communities. 

This poem was first published in 1995 in Wounded in the House of a Friend. Sanchez spends the lines discussing and celebrating the immense “love / you hear” and the large “voice / you hear” in Black communities. The poet uses language like “not a small voice” and “no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths” in order to emphasize the positive language, like “this is a large / love, a passion for kissing learning / on its face.”

This is not a small voice

you hear this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

A Small Needful Fact

by Ross Gay

‘A Small Needful Fact’ by Ross Gay is a powerful poem that presents an image of hope and beauty after a loss. The poem addresses the legacy of Eric Garner and how one might still find his presence in the world. 

The poem highlights Eric Garner, a black man who was killed by police brutality. It emphasizes the value of his life and his contribution to society, reinforcing the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. The poem is incredibly moving and direct.

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

Who Said It Was Simple

by Audre Lorde

‘Who Said It Was Simple’ by Audre Lorde is a powerful poem about the inequalities in various civil rights movements during the poet’s lifetime.

The poem addresses the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement by recognizing the roots of anger and frustration that Black individuals experience due to racism and systemic oppression. The poem acknowledges the historical roots of racism and oppression that have impacted Black individuals and their communities. This recognition emphasizes the need for understanding and acknowledging history to address these issues.

There are so many roots to the tree of anger

that sometimes the branches shatter

before they bear.


by Danez Smith

’C.R.E.A.M.’ by Danez Smith is a complex, moving poem that depicts a speaker’s personal life and speaks on the American racial wealth gap. 

This poem offers a poignant and personal perspective on the ways in which systemic racism affects black lives, particularly in relation to economic inequality and the criminal justice system. The poem is unique in its structure, asking readers to consider these important subjects in a new way.

in the morning I think about money

green horned lord of my waking

forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation

prison made of emerald & pennies

Primer for Blacks

by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Primer For Blacks’ by Gwendolyn Brooks speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and a possible unified future for all black people.

The poem speaks to the value of Black lives and the importance of standing up against oppression and violence toward Black people. It highlights the struggles and experiences of black people, emphasizing the need for their lives to matter in society.


is a title,

is a preoccupation,

is a commitment Blacks

Rosa Parks

by Nikki Giovanni

‘Rosa Parks’ by Nikki Giovanni is a poem about activism and the importance of remembering important moments in African American history. The poem pays tribute to the heroic actions of the Pullman Porters who spearheaded the civil rights movement and forever changed history for the African American community.

The poem highlights the significance of Black lives and how they have been suppressed for centuries. It shows how the Pullman Porters and Mrs. Rosa Parks took the stand for equal rights for Blacks, which became a moment of change and hope for the Black community.

This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said

they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago

Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would

Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

‘Still I Rise’ is an inspiring and emotional poem that’s based around Maya Angelou’s experiences as a Black woman in America. It encourages readers to love themselves fully and persevere in the face of every hardship.

This poem highlights the struggles and oppression that black people face and the determination to rise above it all. It can serve as a powerful anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

won’t you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton

‘won’t you celebrate with me’ by Lucille Clifton addresses racism and inherent gender inequality. The speaker has overcome every hurdle and modeled herself in her own image.

While the poem doesn't explicitly reference the Black Lives Matter movement, it can be seen as a celebration of black life and resilience in the face of oppression and attempts to "kill" the speaker. It is a reminder of the value and importance of black lives, even when society may try to diminish or devalue them.

won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander read the poem, ‘Praise Song for the Day’ at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. It is an occasional poem praising the Americans’ role in nation-building.

Although the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is not explicitly mentioned in the poem, the poem does speak to the experiences of Black people and their contributions to American society, as well as the struggles they have faced.

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

by Terrance Hayes

‘We Should Make a Documentary About Spades’ is written by contemporary American poet Terrance Hayes. This imaginary piece explores the theme of racism and implicitly comments on the history of Spades.

The poem does not explicitly mention the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it touches on the experiences of black people, such as their history and the derogatory word spade. The mention of "sun people" also highlights the poem's focus on black people.

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people

Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage

Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

Explore more poems about Black Lives Matter

Dream Variations

by Langston Hughes

‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes details two slightly different dreams a Black speaker has as he is confronted with the “white day.”

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Poem About My Rights

by June Jordan

‘Poem About My Rights’ by June Jordan is a one-stanza poem revealing a speaker’s thoughts on misogyny, sexism, and racism from their experience. It is celebrated for accurately portraying the struggles of women and men of color in a patriarchial and predominantly white society.

Though the poem shares themes from the protest, "Black Lives Matter", this protest includes themes like police brutality. Police brutality is not explicitly mentioned in 'Poem About My Rights,' which moves from the theme of misogyny to racism. Both, however, focus on the struggles of African Americans and so are loosely related.

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear

my head about this poem about why I can’t

go out without changing my clothes my shoes

my body posture my gender identity my age


by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Riot’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a poem that illustrates the dissonance that exists between the privileged and those who are driven to desperation to riot.

Brooks' poem remains relevant because of the Black Lives Matter movement. But it is also a resounding reminder of the way riots are still characterized as the tantrums of ungrateful children when in reality, they are the final outcry of an oppressed group of people. Racism and privilege are what drive the necessity of riots. This poem is a potent chastisement of those who would argue otherwise.

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,

all whitebluerose below his golden hair,

wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;

For My People

by Margaret Walker

‘For My People’ by Margaret Walker is a poem celebrating African American culture while highlighting several hardships African Americans have faced. The poem urges African Americans in the generations to come to not allow themselves to face the same hardships their ancestors did in the form of systemic racism, sickness, and a general deprivation of rights.

Though not specifically tailored for the 21st century Black Lives Matter movement, the call to action in stanza ten echoes when one considers the fruits of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement almost seems like a response to Walker's call, if anything, with generations of African Americans standing against racism and other forms of oppression.

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a

    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second

    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people

    loving freedom come to growth...

I Give You Thanks My God

by Bernard Dadié 

‘I Give You Thanks My God’ by Bernard Dadié describes the nature of blackness and the speaker’s gratitude for the strength to carry the world. 

The poem indirectly resonates with the Black Lives Matter movement, as it celebrates the significance and worth of black lives. By embracing their blackness and finding strength in their identity, the speaker defies the injustices and oppression faced by Black individuals.

I give you thanks my God for having created me black

For having made of me

The total of all sorrows,

and set upon my head

Telephone Conversation

by Wole Soyinka

‘Telephone Conversation’ is a poem written by Wole Soyinka, a renowned African writer in English. The poem exposes the presence of racial discrimination at the individual level in society even after the passing of laws against it.

While the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence decades after this poem was written, 'Telephone Conversation' still resonates strongly with its core message. The poem serves as an early testament to the kinds of everyday racism that the movement seeks to combat, adding depth to the continuing discourse on racial inequality.

The price seemed reasonable, location

Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived

Off premises. Nothing remained

But self-confession. "Madam," I warned,


A Brave and Startling Truth

by Maya Angelou

‘A Brave and Startling Truth’ by Maya Angelou is a commonly quoted poem about humanity’s future. The poet alludes to the “truth” that humanity will arrive at when “we” realize we are the one true wonder of the world. 

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

Affirmative Action Blues

by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Affirmative Action Blues’ appears in Elizabeth Alexander’s Body of Life (1996). This poem is about the incident of police brutality on Rodney King in 1991.

Right now two black people sit in a jury room

in Southern California trying to persuade

nine white people that what they saw when four white

police officers brought batons back like

As I Grew Older

by Langston Hughes

‘As I Grew Older’ by Langston Hughes is about breaking through the “wall” that racism constructs. The speaker, a Black man from the African American community, spends the poem discussing the light of forgotten dreams he’s newly determined to attain.

It was a long time ago.

I have almost forgotten my dream.

But it was there then,

In front of me,

Atlantic City Waiter

by Countee Cullen

‘Atlantic City Waiter’ by Countee Cullen is a deeply thoughtful poem. In it, Cullen describes the actions, strength, and pride of an Atlantic City waiter.

Ballad of Birmingham

by Dudley Randall

Ballad of Birmingham’ by Dudley Randall is a moving narrative of the last moments of a little girl murdered in a church bombing.

“Mother dear, may I go downtown

Instead of out to play,

And march the streets of Birmingham

In a Freedom March today?”

Caged Bird

by Maya Angelou

‘Caged Bird’, or ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ as the poem is sometimes referred to, by Maya Angelou, is arguably one of the most moving and eye-opening poems ever written.

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

Catch the Fire

by Sonia Sanchez

‘Catch the Fire’ by Sonia Sanchez is a thoughtful and inspiring poem. In it, the poet encourages readers to catch their fire and use their passion to fuel their lives.


by Claude McKay

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,

For weary centuries despised, oppressed,

Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place

In the great life line of the Christian West;


by Angelina Weld Grimké

‘Fragment’ by Angelina Weld Grimké is a short and powerful poem in which a woman discusses, in simple terms, who she is and how she toils on a day-to-day basis.

Frederick Douglass

by Robert Hayden

‘Frederick Douglass’ by Robert Hayden honors Douglass and speaks about a future in which all people, according to Douglass’ ideas of love and logic, will be treated equally without question.


by Michael S. Harper

‘Grandfather’ by Michael S. Harper describes the treatment Harper’s grandfather endured and alludes to racism within the United States more generally. 

Harlem Hopscotch

by Maya Angelou

‘Harlem Hopscotch’ by Maya Angelou is a thoughtful poem. It explores what it’s like to grow up Black in Harlem, New York.

One foot down, then hop! It's hot.

Good things for the ones that's got.

Another jump, now to the left.

Everybody for hisself.

Harlem Shadows

by Claude McKay

‘Harlem Shadows’ by Claude McKay memorably addresses the lives of Black sex workers in Harlem. The poet describes their experience while also acknowledging their strength.

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass

        In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall

Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass

        To bend and barter at desire's call.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as it was one of the first works of literature to shed light on the brutality and cruelty of slavery.

She told the story, and the whole world wept

At wrongs and cruelties it had not known

But for this fearless woman's voice alone.

She spoke to consciences that long had slept:

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