A haunting poem captures our Kyle Rittenhouse moment. America: 'come get your children.'

Looking at a photo of Kyle Rittenhouse, it's hard for many of us not to see every horrible American stereotype personified. The 17-year-old who illegally crossed state lines with a semi-automatic rifle to "protect businesses" in Kenosha, Wisconsin, ended up shooting three people, killing two of them.

And for these actions, he's been celebrated by some as a hero.

The vastly different ways people view this teen is emblematic of the division in the U.S. when it comes to racial justice. Where some people see a patriot, others see a terrorist. How anyone could look at a 17-year-old illegally carrying a gun, prepared to shoot people while protecting property that isn't his as anything other than radicalized is beyond me. Yet here we are.


Poet Leslé Honoré shared a poem on Facebook that sums up the haunting feeling the Kyle Rittenhouse killings conjure for many Americans—particularly for those who have been on the receiving end of racism and gun violence from people who present themselves as "pro-America."

Honoré's first book of poetry, Fist and Fire, can be found here. She also has a new book, Letters and Lagniappe, coming out this fall.

The poem reads:

America come get your children
The ones you are so proud of
The ones wearing Stars and Stripes
Buying guns like candy
The ones dripping with
White privilege
That you created with
Red blood from brown skin
America come get your children
Come get your kids
The ones flying flags of defeat
Of history long dead
Of a life they wish they had
Of superiority they believe they have
The lies you whispered in their ears
As you rocked them to sleep
"Look away look away look away Dixie land"
America come get your children
The ones terrorizing this country
The ones terrorizing the world
The ones never called a terrorist
Come get
Your rapist
Your misogynistic
Your appropriating
Hating
Bigoted
Offspring
You know...
the apples that didn't fall far from the tree
America come get your children
The ones running the country
The ones too cowardly to speak up
The ones that shoot into protests
Churches
Light torches
Run cars into peace
Come get your diseased infants
Entitled children in men's bodies
Jealous girls screaming in women's voices
Come get this disgusting basket of
Deplorables
That you nurtured on
Manifest destiny
The pale pink faces
In utter disbelief
That even though you put your knee
On every Brown and Black neck you saw
We have fought back and risen
Casting shadows on your children
And they rage when they learn
That being a white mediocre man
Is no longer enough

America come get your children
Before they burn this stolen land down
And you with it

- Leslé Honoré

But what's remarkable is that despite how relevant the poem is to this moment, it wasn't written specifically for this moment. Honoré wrote it in 2017 after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Honoré tells Upworthy that she has a couple of gun violence poems that she reshares whenever the moment fits—which unfortunately is far too frequently. "It's very sad and heavy that I don't even have to write a new poem," she ways. "I can just change the hashtag because nothing has changed. Nothing changed from Sandy Hook, nothing changed from Columbine, nothing changed from Florida, nothing changed from Vegas. It was a continuation of this very sad and heavy state that we've been having in this country when it comes to gun violence."

She says this poem struck a nerve for "reminding people that this is exactly who we are, and until we address this honestly, we're not going to have any change."

"This is very much our legacy," she says. "It's what the country was built on. It was built on enslaving people for free labor, stealing land, oppression, a legacy of Jim Crow laws, and segregation, and black belts, and the Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement. All of these things are very much linked."

Honoré says some of her favorite responses to the poem are from people new to her work who express either gratitude for expressing what they don't know how to, in addition to people who feel pushed by it in a good way. "Always, for me, it's when I get white readers who thank me for challenging them and who say that they're seeing things differently by reading my poetry," she says. "That just makes my knees buckle and gives me goosebumps. And it helps me swallow the other not very nice things that I get in my inbox or on the comments on the poem."

"To use a country phrase," she adds, "I've been called everything but a child of God."

Indeed, the comments on her poem are a mix that reflect the unrest we're seeing across the country. "If you ever want to see what the underbelly of America really looks like, grab a glass of your favorite liquor and look in the comments of this poem," she says, "because it's hideous." The worst comments, though, go straight to her inbox because people aren't brave enough to put them up for everyone to see. "Typically I get 'You're a fat, ugly, stupid c*nt,'" she says, then laughs. "Like, do the white nationalists copy and paste that to me?"

Honoré says she's developed a thick skin and doesn't let the hate bother her. In addition to writing poetry, she works for a non-profit subsidiary of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) that trains more than 30,000 home care workers who work with the elderly, people with disabilities, and children—work that is done primarily by Black and brown women. The advocacy work she does helps inform her writing, she says. She has seen these essential workers make huge sacrifices during the pandemic and racial unrest, with some walking for hours to get to their clients who need them when public transportation in Chicago got shut down. "That's the commitment of the people who we represent," she says, "so I could give two shits about some stranger calling me a c*nt in my inbox. I've got really important work to do."

Honoré has had poems go viral before, but this one is different. "Typically the pieces that go big are some of my feel-good pieces where we can see ourselves and see our humanity. This one struck a nerve in a very unique way, and it was like a dog whistle for…phew, I mean, anything that anybody who calls themselves an activist is fighting against. It's all there in black and white."

Facebook took down the poem briefly, with Honoré receiving a notice that it had been flagged for violating community standards on hate speech (undoubtedly because some white folks who got big mad about it reported it). The same thing happened on Instagram, but both platforms restored the poem after it was reviewed.

Despite what angry commenters may think, Honoré is clear that the reality expressed in her poem does not reflect a hatred for the U.S. "I love being American," she says. "I'm the daughter of a Mexican immigrant. My father was an African-American from New Orleans. The plantation where my family was enslaved is still standing in New Orleans…I'm American as it gets, both by birth right and blood right. So I feel I have the liberty to criticize her to be better."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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