Gwendolyn Brooks and We Are Each Other’s
July 23, 2020
IFYC is proud to invite all to take part in We Are Each Other’s, our new campaign to activate and support interfaith leaders responding to the multiple crises sweeping our nation. In launching this campaign, we also seek to honor & center the artistry of Gwendolyn Brooks, the Chicago poet whose words provide the title of the campaign.
Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917. Her parents moved to Chicago when she was six weeks old as a part of the Great Migration, a massive movement of African Americans out of the rural South to the urban North and Midwest to pursue economic opportunities and escape Jim Crow laws. Brooks lived the rest of her days in Chicago, calling it her “home base,” and much of her work was dedicated to telling the story of Black urban communities, drawing on experiences of her life in Chicago.
Partly because of her identity as a Chicago poet, IFYC has long reflected on Brooks’s words as a source of inspiration and purpose for our own work. IFYC Founder and President Eboo Patel shared, “From the first time I heard those words ‘we are each other’s,” it just captured everything for me. It was three lines that told the story of the community, the organization, the nation, and the world that we want to build.”
Even today, the spirit and achievements of Brooks’s life are precisely in line with IFYC’s aspirations for the new We Are Each Other’s campaign. While Brooks achieved the highest level of professional excellence in her field (the first Black Pulitzer prize winner, the Poet Laureate of Illinois, the Poet Laureate Consultant for the Library of Congress, the first African American woman to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters), she was also an educator, dedicating time to mentorship and teaching the next generation of artists in Chicago. Doreen St. Felix at the New Yorker identified this educational drive as a key part of Brooks’s “radical legacy.”
That radicalism, of course, was also Brooks’s contribution to the ongoing movement for racial equity, a key aspiration of IFYC’s new campaign as well. In telling the story of the Black urban poor of her community, Brooks shone a light on the ongoing inequity and injustice on the streets of Chicago. In the words of St. Felix, “To Brooks, poetry was citizenship.” Her work told the untold stories and urgently reminded her readers, in evocative and incisive ways, of the essential work needed to perfect our democracy – work which is still essential and ongoing today.
The poem from which the text ‘we are each other’s’ is drawn is one example of Brooks’s commitment to civil rights, a poem she wrote in testament to Paul Robeson. Robeson was a Black actor and activist, a famous baritone who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his political commitments. Brooks celebrates his leadership at his death writing, “That time, we all heard it…The major Voice. The adult Voice…warning, in music-words devout and large that we are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
The work of Gwendolyn Brooks – the commitment to citizenship, the commitment to equity, the commitment to artistry, and the commitment to education – is ongoing. It is just as essential today as ever before in these disruptive times. In launching We Are Each Other’s, IFYC seeks to empower leaders to continue to contribute to the purposes Brooks pursued with passion over the course of her life. In her words, “I think there are things for all of us to do as long as we’re here and we’re healthy.”
Join us in continuing to live out Gwendolyn Brooks’s legacy. Let us come together in the spirit of her life and her poetry. We are each other’s business. Access the curriculum now.