Monday, October 19, 2015

The REAL Author of The Poem "Hey Black Child"

Edited by Azizi Powell

A number of websites, YouTube videos, and comments on YouTube discussion threads indicate that Countee Cullen is the author of the inspirational poem "Hey Black Child". Other websites, YouTube videos, and discussion thread comments attribute that poem to Maya Angelou. However, after reading several online articles and comments I believe that the real author of "Hey Black Child" is Useni Eugene Perkins.

This post showcases the poem "Hey Black Child" and provides information about its author. A YouTube video of three year old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem reciting that poem is also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, inspirational, purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Useni Eugene Perkins for his cultural legacy. Thanks also to Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem who is featured in the video embedded in this post, thanks to the publisher of that video, and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Useni Eugene Perkins is a distinguished poet, playwright and youth worker. Born in Chicago on September 13, 1932, he was the son of Marion Perkins, a sculptor, and Eva Perkins. Being exposed to the arts at a young age through his father would prove to be a major influence on his later years...

In [1966], Perkins became the executive director of the Better Boys Foundation of Chicago, a social agency involved in community, social, educational and cultural development. Raised in the housing projects of Chicago, and having established a career as a sociologist dealing with troubled youth, he authored the 1976 book Home Is A Dirty Street: The Social Oppression of Black Children.

Upon leaving his post with the Better Boys Foundation in 1982, Perkins became an executive consultant in Chicago with INESU Consultants, where he stayed for two years. He was still very active in writing, penning several sociological books on African American youth, as well as publishing books of poetry and authoring various plays that were produced in theaters in Chicago."...

"About "Hey Black Child
Hey Black Child was originally a song that was adapted into a poem, written by Chicago-based and -born writer Useni Eugene Perkins (NOT Countee Cullen) for his play "The Black Fairy." It was performed at the Lamont Zeno Theater at the Better Boys Foundation on Chicago's South Side for over 5,000 children and adults in Chicago, and then in Detroit, from 1974 to 1975. So anniversary wishes are in order! And much gratitude to Useni Eugene Perkins for his inspiring work.

Somewhere in me, I knew the author of the poem had Chicago ties (Chi-town stand up!), so I'm glad to have been corrected, so as to continue the thread of honoring Chicago poets in these shadow days of National Poetry Month. ...and who knows? Maybe one day I'll be part of a re-staging of "The Black Fairy" :) "
This website includes a sound file of this poem: Music by Blackdaylight. Vocal arrangement and voice(s) by ArinMaya."

A number of commenters wrote that they recall having posters of the poem "Hey Black Child". Other commenters wrote that they had recited the poem "Hey Black Child" in Black history month oratorical contests.

(Useni Eugene Perkins)

Hey Black Child,
Do you know who you are?
Who you really are?
Do you know you can be
What you want to be?
If you try to be
what you can be.

Hey Black Child,
Do you know where you’re going?
Where you’re really going?
Do you know you can learn
What you want to learn?
If you try to learn
What you can learn?

Hey Black Child,
Do you know you are strong?
I mean really strong?
Do you know you can do
What you want to do?
If you try to do
What you can do?

Hey Black Child,
Be what you can be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation will be
what you want it to be


SHOWCASE EXAMPLE: Maya Angelou's "Hey Black Child," recited by 3-yr old Pe’Tehn Raighn Kem

Keri Bolding, Published on Mar 5, 2015

AMAZING 3-yr old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem can read, write and pay tribute to one of the most renowned writers of all time. She memorized author Maya Angelou's poem "Hey Black Child" in just a week and recited the poem to an audience during the Chicago daytime talk show Windy City LIVE.
Selected comment:
Pemon Rami, 2015
"Hey Black Child was not written by Maya Angelou or Countee Cullin. It was written by Useni Eugene Perkins for the pla[y] The Black Fairy which I directed in 1975."

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  1. This is not true,Counted Cullen wrote Hey Black Child. Stand before Our Creator and tell this lie. Useni did not write this poem. You insult my Black heritage to covet that which is not yours. Tell the truth.

    1. I concluded from my research that Useni Eugene Perkins is the author of this poem.

      It's possible that I am wrong, and if so, my apologies.

      But as to me insulting your Black heritage, that certainly wasn't my intent.

      And my Black heritage doesn't covet that which isn't mine.

  2. Hey Black Child is an inspiring piece of work. I honor the author and hope he or she is given proper credit. I am at awe with this beautiful child who has both the intellect and the spiritual growth needed to spread such an important message to all black children and to all people in every nation.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I also applaud Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem, the girl featured in this video. And I agree with what you wrote about this poem's message.

  3. I just saw Pe'Tehn do this on Steve Harvey. I am so proud I cried. In terms of Unknown, you did not need to be so venomous. Be proud enuf in your stand to declare who you are. Or sit down.

    1. Thanks for your comment, MariaJ.

      I appreciate what you wrote.

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  5. I was interested in using Hey Black Child in my book and noted your article about the real author. I continued my research and found this in the KIRKUS REVIEW

    "A poem by a celebrated Chicago playwright and long beloved within the Black History Month tradition about the achievement, potential, and ancestral joy incubated within the black experience.

    Readers who Google “Hey Black Child” will come across bevies of joyous videos of children as young as 3, both solo and in chorus, reciting this poem to enthralled crowds of families and friends. First penned in 1975, it’s often been attributed to such black literary greats as Countee Cullen and Maya Angelou (a phenomenon discussed in the author’s note). Yet the real genius behind this poem is Perkins, a longtime committed poet, playwright, and social worker in Chicago. He writes: “I’m honored that my poem has been associated with these two gifted writers, but I’m glad the world can now learn about the poem’s true roots.”
    Thank you so much for your research and making this correction for those of us who love poetry. Joanna Gabriel, 7/27/17

    1. You're welcome,Rev. Gabriel.

      Thanks for sharing that quote with me and other pancocojams readers.