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Stewart Shaw

Courtesy of Stewart Shaw

The African American community has a long history of storytelling. It’s important to tell your story. We’ve always passed down legacy from one to another. Black presence is having a voice. Our society will quickly run you over if you’re quiet. I always heard this phrase from my mother, “A squeaky wheel gets the oil,” and “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” That’s why a lot of these social movements are very loud. The Black Panthers, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) that formed in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the gay community... ACT UP was so vocal. They knew if they weren’t loud they weren’t going to get fed. With Black Lives Matter, they get out there. They protest. They have to be heard. Now, not every protest has to be loud, but until you are heard, no one’s going to care about you. I think writers know that, especially the poets. Poets are the philosophers of society. They’re the truth-sayers. And they know voice. Their voice can be very quiet, but they speak loudly. You have to be in the world putting your soul on the line in some form. Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean someone’s going to care about you. You have to make your presence known. Even if it’s in a whisper, announce yourself.

Stewart Shaw
Program Manager, San Francisco Public Library’s African American Department

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