Nia McAllister

Nia McAllister is a Bay Area born poet, writer, and environmental justice advocate working at the intersection of art, activism, and public engagement. As Public Programs Manager at the Museum of the African Diaspora, Nia creates participatory spaces for creative expression and literary dialogue. Nia’s writing has been featured on Poets of Color podcast and published in Radicle magazine, Meridians journal, and Painting the Streets: Oakland Uprising in the Time of Rebellion (Nomadic Press, 2022).

Poem on Belonging

650

They name the streets after presidents around here 
          (the dead and not so dead).
They alphabetize them, rank them, and make entrance exam of our sidewalks. 
It helps us remember that our streets like our surnames
are somebody else's blood legacy.

I didn’t live on the other side of the tracks, 
but I lived on the other side of Jefferson. 
To some I just repeated myself.

I didn’t live on the other side of the tracks,
I lived on the other side of Jefferson.
A surveilled intersection, a crosswalk waiting to claim another school child. My mother gripped my hand tightly at every opportunity.
She knew Clinton was too busy to ever see us coming.

There was never any place to park on Adams Street.
And our neighbor kept his three jeeps, his boat, and his nephews’ fleet 
in the red zone he painted for himself.

My mother still writes chalk messages
along the pavement telling them
two cars can fit in the space in front of our house. 
She is proud of her curbside protest:
A reminder that we’re not going anywhere.

In 4th grade my friend and I used post up in my backyard
with a pair of binoculars, spying on the gangs in the apartment building behind us. 
Today I visit my parents and poodles in puffer vests
walk down our potholed alley.
I seem to have misplaced my binoculars.

They name the streets after dead presidents around here, installed flashing lights, 
painted a mural of brown children on the side of Whole Foods.
Our block is now worth millions.

I imagine my mother the first day I walked to school alone: 
Anxiously perched on the top step of the porch
willing the cars to slow down.
They only see you coming from the other side of the street. 
I still look both ways before I cross.

Copyright © 2022 by Nia McAllister. Used with permission of the author.