My parents didn’t really read books to my brother and I when we were little; I don’t know if it’s because they were too busy, or didn’t feel like being bothered, or if it was just something their generation didn’t do. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get hyped on books until I was able to get myself to the library—that magical, beautiful building where there were books a plenty, each waiting to take my imagination places I couldn’t conjure up all on my own. I was a huge Beverly Cleary fan, and Judy Blume could do no wrong, and I literally wore out the pages of my favorite Frances Hodgson Burnett books—“The Secret Garden,” and “The Little Princess.”
I never considered that none of the characters in those books didn’t look like me; they were fantastic stories that made me laugh out loud and wonder. They were my friends.
Still, when I had my Mari, I knew that I had to do better by her—that I needed to surround her not only with stories and music that spoke directly to my little brown baby, but to stretch and bend and reach for material that moved beyond the obvious. Sure, I adored reading books by authors like Andrea Pinkney and Ezra Jack Keats and Vera B. Williams, each of whom made clear that stories featuring children of color mattered and were meaningful and lovely. But I was trying to raise a baby who would love listening to opera (Kathleen Battle’s “So Many Stars”) and jazz (Tony Bennett’s “Playground” and Louis Armstrong’s “Disney Songs The Satchmo Way”) as much as she did the Teletubbies and Elmo, and who wouldn’t be afraid to raise a fist in the air when it came time to rep being a beautiful, strong, smart little black girl. So she might catch a little Alice Walker up in the glider, or a word or two of Toni Morrison whispered in her ear while she dreamed in her crib. I adored reading poetry to her most of all—particularly anything by Nikki Giovanni, long a hero of mine. For her audacity. For her fearlessness. For her straight up love and dedication to the African diaspora. Her poem, “Ego Trippin,” was—and still is—a staple. It’s girl power at its finest.
Today, I could use a little girl power to get me through.
Maybe you can, too.
Ego Trippin (there may be a reason why)
By Nikki Giovanni
I was born in the Congo
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the Sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every one hundred years falls into the center giving divine perfect light.
I am bad.
I sat on the throne drinking nectar with Allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst.
My oldest daughter is Nefertiti
The tears from my birth pains created the Nile
I am a beautiful woman.
I gazed upon the forest and burned out the Sahara desert
With a packet of goat's meat and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift--so swift--you can't catch me.
For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son Hannibal an elephant
He gave me Rome for Mother's Day
My strength flows ever on
My son Noah built a new ark and
I stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into my self and was Jesus
Men intone my loving name
All praise, all praise
I am the one who would save
I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels delivered uranium
The fillings from my fingernails are
Once on a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
my nose, giving oil to the Arab world
I am so hip my errors are correct.
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the Earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents.
I am so perfect,
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission
I mean....I....can fly
Like a bird in the sky....