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Naima Richmond

Naima Richmond

Poet, Storyteller and Community Activist

Born: Milon, GA, United States
Heritage: African American

One of the most important things I learned in my life is to stand up for what you feel is right even though the whole world may be against you. I feel I still do that today. Although I know that in some instances it didn't pay but I know deep down in my heart that I had to stand firm on my beliefs. I am a writer of poetry. I write poetry that reflects my growing up in Atlanta, my experience riding the streetcar as a little girl, and going to a segregated school. In my work I advocate peace because I truly believe it begins with the individual. We need to and share it with others and help them see a better way through peace.

Naima Richmond

Poet, Storyteller and Community Activist

My name is Naima Richmond. I was born August 20th, 1932, in a small town called Milon, Georgia. When I was very young my mother separated from my father and we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up we were very poor. We lived in a house that had big planks on the floor instead of carpeting or linoleum. Our yard did not have grass and we had to sweep the dirt to keep the trash off of the yard. I remember going to school with cardboard soles in my shoes because they had worn out and we couldn't afford to buy new shoes.

We didn't have a lot of toys. So we had to make believe we had toys. In the summer we found old planks and a ball and those planks became our bats to play baseball. In the winter the city would block off the streets so we could skate. We only had two pair of skates and there were four of us. So the four of us had to share those two pairs of skates and take turns. We had to make believe and improvise with a lot of our toys.

I went to a segregated school in Atlanta called David T. Howard. It was named after the first black embalmer in Atlanta, Georgia. The books were in such bad condition because when we got them they had gone to about four or five other schools before they got to our school. But we learned from those tattered books. They helped to produce doctors, lawyer, preachers, teachers and blue-collar workers. Dr. Martin Luther King and I went to the same school. He was four grades ahead of me and, although he would not have known me personally, as children we would say “hello” in passing. I also went to Ebenezer Baptist Church and many Sundays I heard his father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. preach.

When I got on the streetcar one day, my mother took me by my hand and said, "You can't sit there," and she pointed to sign on the streetcar: "Colored at the back of streetcar." I didn’t understand. Why should I have to get off of my seat and let someone else have it because of the color of my skin? There were some streetcars that we could not even get on. We would stand and wait for a streetcar to come and it would come and say, "White only" on it and we couldn't get on. I just felt that no one should have to go through this regardless of who they are.

I came to Minneapolis in 1952, because my husband was stationed here at a place called Wold-Chamberlain Air Force Base. We were supposed to be here for only two months but I'm still here. I have three daughters and one son, and now five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. My favorite memory with my kids growing up was all of the fun things we did together. We would bake together, go to the Walker Art Center and go to the library for reading hours. Every Friday night we’d stay up late because they didn't have to get up the next morning. So as a treat we would have popcorn and hot dogs.

When I came to Minneapolis, I was appalled to know that there was no hot lunch school program for elementary school kids. Years later there were people in the community wanting to know what were some of the things that we would like to help change. I suggested a hot lunch program for our elementary school kids. I went around with the committee in the north side of Minneapolis to get people to sign a petition for a hot lunch program. We took it down to the Board of Education and that was the beginning of hot lunch school programs in Minneapolis.

I have done a lot of traveling. I was in China for nine days for the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women. I wrote a paper on the power of poetry and women’s rights and won a scholarship to go to the conference from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. I have also been to Africa twice. In Africa it was overwhelming because I felt like I had gone back from whence I came. There was a sense of joy at the beauty as well as a sense of sadness because of the poverty.

Notation: Download PDF

Stand Up for What You Feel Is Right!

Honoring Naima Richmond

Stand Up For What You Feel Is Right!
(Honoring Naima Richmond)

I grew up in Atlanta
on the black side of town
Where there weren’t too many
white folks around
Went to David T. Howard
a school that was named
After the first black embalmer
the son of a slave
Stand up for what you feel is right!
Went to school with cardboard soles in my shoes
Because they were worn out
I’m telling you
Had to stretch the leather
to put on new heels
Too poor to buy a new pair
even when the leather peels
Stand up for what you feel is right!
We were so poor we had to
wash our clothes
Socks and underwear at night
when we got home
Too poor to buy a new pair
had no washing machine
Don’t want no accident
unless you’re clean
Stand up for what you feel is right!
We ate fatback bacon, corn bread
and black-eyed peas,
Pig’s feet, tails, and ears
and don’t forget those greens
We ate lots of chittlin’s
for dessert jello
On Sunday we had chicken
food for the soul
Stand up for what you feel is right!
The first house we lived in
was made of big planks
No carpet or linoleum
buckets of rain water we drank
That dripped through the roof
when it rained it leaked
With a yard that had no grass
dirt and trash we would sweep.
Stand up for what you feel is right!

Studied by kerosene lamps by night
Learned twenty-five words a week beneath that source of light
If we would the teacher gave us
a gold star
To remind us how lucky we are
Stand up for what you feel is right!
Grandmother could not see
upon me she relied
I was her runner - I became her eyes.
She loved to play the numbers
to the gamblin’ hall I’d go
It was the devils workshop
that’s what I was told
Stand up for what you feel is right!
When helping neighbors
weren’t suppose to get a dime
If we did something wrong
got caught every time
And when we did we had to
get a switch
With a ‘wup’, that’s all it took
for punishment
Stand up for what you feel is right!
Had hot lunches in school
way down south
Yet when I came up north
the kids were without
A hot lunch program in the schools
on the northside
I started a petition
that everybody signed
Stand up for what you feel is right!
Like my mother told me
with the right attitude
You can say what you want
no one’s stopping you
We got that hot lunch program
then that program spread
From Minneapolis into St. Paul
the children are fed
Stand up for what you feel is right!

Words and music by Larry Long with Mrs. Valme’s 4th grade class of FAIR School. Crystal, Minnesota
© Larry Long 2008 /BMI