But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
– Maya Angelou
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night just to touch him, to lay my hand on him and whisper a little prayer. I am reminded of all the families who prayed over children who never returned again. You just never know.
Prayer can seem like all we can do for young people that look like my son. Imani Perry, in her letter to her sons entitled Breathe, lamented, “There are fingers itching to have a reason to cage or even slaughter you. My God, what hate for beauty this world breeds.”
I know the feeling. Just last summer, during a run, an older white man started taking pictures of me and telling me that I “didn’t belong here.” On the walk home, I stopped, bowed my head, and cried. These were not tears of weakness. I cried because I felt what many of those who looked like me have felt: the tragedy of blackness in an unloving world. My tears were my song, with a “fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still.”
When I arrived home, I told myself: You are black. You are known. You are loved. You must survive. I understand the caged bird a little better now. In its weakness, he opens up his throat still. The caged bird must sing.
Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at ...1
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