Self-Reclamation by Verdi Degbey

Editor’s note: The following spoken word piece was performed by Verdi Degbey during the Diversity Symposium keynote on Friday, February 20, 2015 in Phillips Stevens Chapel.

This is my self-reclamation.
I was a pumpkin.
The world picked me up prematurely
And placed me on its operation table
Where its people quickly went to work.
Pulling out my roots, the seeds inside of me,
And carving onto my skin the things they wanted me to be.

About a year ago, I spit my first lines,
I called it “OREOS”.
I was really trying to tell you my story bro,
But you only liked my rhymes, you didn’t really get it though.
Instead, you said “Dang” when you heard me,
You called me a poet, Said “you’re an artist, Verdi”
But you just liked the rhymes, not the story
And that hurt me.
Then you tried tell me what to write, man, you don’t own me.
Yeah, you’ve heard some of my stories, but you still don’t know me.
Because if you did, you wouldn’t label me like you do.
Because as much as I aspire to inspire you,
I do this to fight a war inside myself.
I do this to find friends
I do this to try to get some help.
You see, in these words,
These words that I speak,
These words that I leak,
These words that I preach,
I’m just trying to find someone who goes through the same things as me.
And they say that’s what makes it art, but this is not artistry,
To be honest, my performances are reworded entries to diaries.
And they call me a poet, a master of words,
But really, I’m just another kid.
I just like to hide behind my metaphors and similes,
And pretend that my life is in perfect symmetry
And I do try my best in everything I can,
But I’m just waiting for people to tell me how amazing I am.

But I am unscripted.

So “amazing” is an understatement.
See, I am a miracle.
I’m like childbirth.
But probably less disturbing to watch.
I am a miracle.
On this stage
I am an unexplainable phenomenon.
With this voice
I am a vision
With this mike,
I am a dream.
This is my craving.
This is my yearning.
This is my passion.

This is why.
This is why I spend so much time alone in my room writing down my feelings.
This is why I spend Sundays not doing work I probably should be doing.
This is why….

I was a pumpkin.
The world picked me up prematurely
And placed me on its operation table
Where its people went to work.
Pulling out my roots, the seeds inside of me,
And carving onto my skin the things they wanted me to be.

I’m living my life trying to figure out
What it means to be a man
But I often find myself apologizing for my integrity.
Like, I’m sorry that I’m not as brawlic as you want me to be,
And I’m sorry that my voice isn’t really that deep.
And I’m sorry that I don’t have enough chest hairs to comb anyway I like,
And I’m sorry that I can’t just pick up girls everywhere in life.
But I wonder,
What ever happened to “being true to oneself”
What happened to “Be humble but strong,”
And “When in trouble, ask for help,”?
They said to be a man, my performance on the field will get me seen heroically,
So am I less of a man because I plant my pain in poetry?

And this isn’t a thing just about manhood because women go through the same pain.
Standards that have been here for ages cause women to feel ashamed.
Ashamed of their of their bodies, surely,
But also of their passions because some of them just don’t sound girly.

They say what makes you respected as a person is your courage.
If that’s the case, then most people making distinctions between the “manly” and the “not”
Are hypocrites.
Please understand that I am in no way saying that being good at sports,
Or lifting weights, and looking all muscular makes you a bad person,
But if you are doing it just to be approved in societal standard, then you are doing it wrong.
If you like doing those things because you like the idea of self-improvement,
Then go ahead.
But if you are discouraging others from following their passions
Because they don’t fit into the stereotype, or you’re just jealous of their talents,
You’re keeping yourself at a low level.
What are we in, 5th grade?
Why are you so worried about someone else’s life so much?
Live your own, and go out there and do what you want to do.
A wise lady once told me that adulthood and maturity
Are reached when one establishes what they want for themselves.
What do you want for yourself?
How are you going to improve to become a premium version of you?
How are the choices you want to make going to affect your kids, your family, and those around you?
You have to understand that you have the power to take control of your life.
Being a strong man or woman means having the courage to express how you feel
Without thought of the reactions of those around you.

This is your self-reclamation.

You were a pumpkin.
The world picked you up prematurely,
Carved you up,
Put a fire in you,
And left you out to rot.
You were no longer a pumpkin,
You were their work of art,
Their creation, a “jack-o-lantern”,
Halloween should only last a day,
But for you, it’s been a lifetime.
They had raised you to never look at the sun,
Because it would make you go blind.
So once you realized that you were as brilliant as that spot in the sky,
You stopped looking in mirrors
In fear that you’d make yourself and those around you
Go blind.
But you need to realize just what you are.

This is your self-reclamation.

You are a prodigy,
The undiscovered 10th wonder of the World.
You are an irreplaceable speck of dust in this Universe.
You’re not one in a million,
You are one in infinity.
There is no one else like you,
And I want you to believe it.
There is no one else like you.
If we tried to copy you through a machine,
It’d read error because there are just too many levels to what makes you an individual.

What makes you a better person is your courage.
But it’s also your knowledge.
Know yourself to be yourself.
Know yourself then be yourself.
Know yourself and be yourself.
Dress how you want,
Speak how you want,
Act how you want.
Don’t apologize for not fitting in,
Go be you.
It’s not too late,

This is your self-reclamation

It’s time to get back the identity they abducted from you.

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