Poet, 7, Sets Off Racial Controversy

ByABC News
March 14, 2006, 12:12 PM

March 14, 2006 — -- A 7-year-old New York poet has fired up adults following a racially charged performance at a middle school.

Autum Ashante, who is home-schooled and lives with her father in Mount Vernon, was invited by a music teacher to present her poetry during a Black History Month program at Peekskill Middle School on Feb. 28. She has written her own poetry and performed in front of audiences since she was 4.

Before reciting a poem, Ashante asked only the black students in the audience to stand and recite with her the "Black Child's Pledge" by the Black Panther Party's Shirley Williams. It begins, "I pledge allegiance to my black people. I pledge to develop my mind and body to the greatest extent possible. I will learn all that I can in order to give my best to my people in their struggle for liberation."

Ashante then presented her poem "White Nationalism Put U In Bondage," which rails against Christopher Columbus, J.P. Morgan and Charles Darwin: "White nationalism is what put you in bondage. Pirate and vampires like Columbus, Morgan and Darwin."

"Black lands taken from your hands, by vampires with no remorse," the poem states. "They took the gold, the wisdom and all of the storytellers. They took the black women, with the black man weak."

The conflict began when the school district apologized for the performance in phone messages left for parents, which upset others who believed Ashante had a right to express herself.

Some thought it was her tone that riled the audience. "Someone so angry, the way she presented it, which acting-wise is what she did, but the way it was perceived, a lot of people took offense to it probably," said Mel Bolden, who invited Ashante to perform.

"We live in a culturally diverse community," said parent Chantell Peeples, "and I think she certainly added an element to a black history program that was maybe a little different, but I think it was certainly well received. As a parent, I wasn't upset at all."