Definition and Memory: Where/How We Family?

Last week we read “We Family” by Haki R. Madhubuti from the collection Run Toward Fear: New Poems and a Poet’s Handbook. I removed the epigraph in order to strengthen the students’ awareness about the context of the poem itself. We read, twice, as we always do. My brave students who volunteer to read the pieces never know what stumbling blocks lay ahead, what words, on what level of their vocabulary they lay, but they forge ahead each week like explorers with the trustee light strapped to their foreheads. I want to send them an extra shout them out this week, because I highlighted none short of 12 terms that I felt might be new to them within the work. It can be scary, but they do it, and I am thankful to them, and I am proud. Next week we will spend a little time revisiting the new vocabulary we have learned in the first six weeks.

To get started on January 13, the eighth grade class listened to Jill Scott’s song Family Reunion as they settled into their roles of poets for the day. In it, there are plenty of characters we can all relate to, an aunt who makes the best lemon cake, and the one who makes the suspect potato salad, to the cousin becoming a father too soon, and the uncle who drank too much…Both classes read the poem written for Madhubuti’s son at the occasion of his wedding, which was a gentle reminder and also a declaration that we, more often than not, do not get to choose our families, yet they are often forced upon us by circumstance, proximity, law or tradition. This is not the first time we have covered family as a theme, so we know that it often means ritual and ceremony, food, dance, games, laughter, and sometimes, even chaos.

We analyzed the poem to identify why it was written; I pointed out the clues present: proud fathers, crying mothers, flowers, food, strangers who would become family. Raquel identified that this poem was written about a wedding.

This week, our writing concept was definition, and when writing definition, the poet takes an abstract or concrete term and discusses what it means by stating what it is or what it isn’t. We took the term family, both abstract and concrete, and defined it. Specifically, the assignment was to define family through the lens of events or occasions which typically gather families.

We compiled a list of said occasions and came up with these and others: church services, baby showers, births, illnesses and death, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, weddings, family reunions and dinners. The students were to choose an occasion that they recall attending with many family members gathered. They were to record the sights and sounds, describe the attendees, the events that occurred there or how it all made them feel, in order to define a family. We all agreed that family is not relegated to those related to you by blood, but are those who love and care for you, and sometimes make you crazy.

Some of the students entered their poems as Madhubuti does…”We family/We friends…” which pay homage in a way I did not urge nor expect. Another pleasant surprise was that without my nudging, students are beginning to recall the forms we have covered in previous weeks, some asked if they could write a list poem, and some choose to rhyme, some do not, some make compact lines, others prosy stanzas like fleshy bones. It is all a joy to witness. Every definition of family here is connected. They are all valid and powerful. Please enjoy.

6th Grade

Taniyah A.

Laughs, fun
food, games most
of all love,

we share
we argue
we love
but always

Jamarion H.
One Day

My mother was having a baby
My first little sister
I was at the park with my aunties
and my auntie got a call from her dad
he told her to give me the phone
she gave me the phone
and all I heard was “She’s here”
I started to cry.

Vonique Q.
We Family

It was my baptism day.
Me, my brothers & cousins were
getting baptized at our family church.
My whole family was there
even my Godfather was
That was a happy day for me
Because that shows me
that my family loves me.
I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have
someone to love me and take
care of me like my family do.

Kamara M.

We took a vacation because our
family started to come apart
We started to have fights with our cousins
so my grandma didn’t tell nobody what
she was doing, but she paid for a
secret vacation to New York and she
made everybody come and my cousins
and everybody ended up having a good time
Even though families fight
we come right back together

Jawan J.

My family
My friends
My neighbors
It feels good to see your face.
I thank God because I saw another day.
I wish I could see some people, I never knew,
I have to deal with it and, say ok.
Now I know you guys are in a better

Kori R.

Family isn’t just blood
its friends and so much more
Family is the people you care for
and spend time with
They’re the people who go
with you throughout life, thick or thin
the ones who care for you and
bless you everyday

8th Grade

Julian Diaz
Miss you Uncle

My last family dinner and last vacation
was when my uncle left this state
I was 13 years old when I said goodbye to him
My tears came out like if I was on a lake
I will see you in Mexico on my next birthday
I will see you again on January 18, 2018.

Talleda P.
Family Reunion

With my family it can
be crazy, sweet times
too, my grandmother and
grandfather always fighting.
But my family is loving
When it comes down
to food they are the
best sweet potatoes
candy yams and every
thing else, chips,
pop, candy, my cousins
play basketball
family will be there when
no one else is
family will never leave your
side, music, dancing
and all,
But I love
my family

7th Grade


I remember the day I was in the hospital.
The day that changed my life.
The someone pulled a knife
I remember when I lost some tears
when I gained some fear

When I was down, no one was
around but me
No one saw the fee
I lied about what I felt, lied
When I lied, I got tied
From now on, I start to cry


We family,
We friends,
We buddies,
We laugh all day
Sit under the tree,
Open gifts with excitement,

I look at my mom with a smile
on my face,
Run to my dad and jump on his waist,
I never thought I would have gotten
exactly that on that day,
they tricked me every day,
and said they couldn’t say,

After I ate dinner,
I said I wouldn’t eat ever again,
I started to feel sleepy,
so I walked to my room
fell in my bed to the point where
no one could see me, my grandma
came to see me, kissed me
on my head & said I cant wait
to the next time I see you

Raquel R.

When my family got together it was a sad thing
when I really wanted it to be a special thing
As my brother cried, I held him up, kept him strong
I hadn’t seen my brother break down in so long
The little baby, Lyric, didn’t know what was going on
Everyone laughed as my dad gave his poem
It made me forget the sad thing was going on
I met family that we had not met before
but they comforted me in what was going on
My cousin gave a speech about how he called her “Pie Face”
It was my turn
I felt my nose burn
I held in my tears
and said my poem which felt like years
My brother hugged me
as we stood there the “Fab 3”
Long live Lula B

Monique J.
My Family Birthday

Our friends
Our family
Even, our neighbors
We went to Coco Key
We played, swam
We listened to music
We ate pizza, hot wings
We ate candy, drank juice
We even stayed at a hotel
Played games, did challenges
We played Marco Polo in the pool.

Our Mother
Most of our aunts
Our cousins
We saw some of our parents happy

My cousin had well wishes
She was very thankful
They spoke good words
We brought gifts

Anitra J.
The One Meeting

The one meeting,
the only meeting,
The last meeting.

So many people,
some I know,
some just met,
some loved and

The reunion,
but loved and everything needed.

The only meeting.
All around the world,
Gathered to see me.
and me.

Only me,

trying and wanting to stay.
left everything,
my family,
my house,
my life.

The one, the only, and
the last meeting.



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.