Providence: A slam poem by Alice Rayner and Ian Rosalhes

New Urban Arts alumni Alice Rayner and Ian Rosalhes performed their slam poem “Providence” at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, held July 16-20, 2014 in Philadelphia, PA.


Classical High School is the most diverse school in Rhode Island.

A public magnet school on the West Side
the best high school in Providence

I grew up close to Classical
Whenever my friends and I passed by
It was a grim reminder that we
Would never make it there.

It was a school for the white kids from across town

The first time I saw Classical was on an 8th grade field trip
they took us to the West Side
to show us all the places we could volunteer.

I came here to learn how to be less ghetto

I came here to experience the “real world”

but not knowing what that meant.

Knew this was a good school because there are white people here

Kept waiting for this to feel like home

Reached out to the people who talked like me, who had all the same questions.

You know the n word is a bad word right?
Are people of color even allowed to take APs?
Why don’t you just do your homework?
Do you ever think about anything besides school?
How do you have the bus schedule memorized?
Why do all the white people ride the same bus?

In 9th grade I took the bus for the first time! Immediately felt like an expert
In 9th grade I took the bus to and from school like I always have

remember to say nothing
Remember to not look into another persons eyes
because it is a fistfight
it is another day you will not be jumped
remember that
this is not home

On Broad St waiting for the 11 to go to my mom’s house
people ask me why I’m not waiting for the white people bus.

I used to think that made me edgy.

white girl waiting for a South Side bus.
I bet she thinks she understands these streets
but she hasn’t seen the rusted insides of old buildings people call home
doesn’t understand the rusted bodies that walk down broad street
looks scared when my friends and I pass by

This isn’t a bad area.

Yet the desire for gentrification is clear in even the most progressive white parents
so proud that their kids go to public school
yet whisper about how nervous the neighborhood makes them

This street was mine long before Classical adopted me
2am whizzing down Broad St in my friend’s Civic, blaring
biggie, biggie, biggie can’t you see

Our parents love Classical’s diversity
but all know that this neighborhood would be a lot better
if the Civics were replaced with Priuses

fridays filling my stomach with pastelitos from pitos

Wouldn’t you rather have vegan food trucks?

When the white people moved onto my old street
the rent went up as fast as their new restaurants
We were never able to go back

My mom’s house is at the arrowhead of gentrification
represented at allwhite
community meetings in the majority hispanic neighborhood
working to get a bar kicked out down the street
they play their Spanish music too loud

It’s not a secret that roads over there
get fixed first
But now you expect to
Take our culture
Our shops
Our children
Make them “pretty”
Make them “safe”
This is rich white liberalism meeting
Portuguese, Dominican, Guatemalan poverty
They think they know what’s best for us
though they’ve never asked our names

Difference is to be feared

At dinner parties tell your friends the story of this neighborhood’s interesting history
brag about how diverse it used to be
but we won’t call this place home until it looks like the last place we lived

Brown skin is not a reason for redevelopment or neighborhood improvement

We do not need
People from the outside telling us
What home should look like
Rusty fences is what home
DOES look like

We went to high school together*

Lived through no AC hot summers skin sticking to our desks
Winters taking tests in classrooms so cold our fingers cramped up
Leaky roofs during spring
Administration treating us like animals
Some of us more than others

Everyone complained about the same things.

It’s a wonder that we weren’t all friends

But how can we be friends with our neighborhoods eating each other?
What good are friends when we can’t imagine a Providence without the rusted legacy of bodies
forced out of their homes?

The problem is not our city;
The problem is we didn’t build it ourselves