Matthew E. Henry

an open letter to my well-intentioned white educators: past, present, and future



thank you for always seeing me as one of the good ones—

a safe bet for your efforts. a burden worth lifting. your attempts

to connect and encourage—like the educators whose movies

were mocked in the faculty lounge—didn’t go unnoticed. but

I never wanted to be the first Black president. or the second.

I wasn’t interested in attending Harvard or those special summer programs

sure to broaden my horizons. there’s a reason why I grew tired

of Crispus Attucks, George Washington Carver, and the Rev. Dr. King

being your only assignment suggestions. why I read Othello while the rest

suffered through Salinger’s unreliable narration. why I later asked

if you knew Sojourner Truth, Lucile Clifton, Octavia Butler—

the other dead having as much to offer. it’s why my recital piece

was “Sir Duke” instead of Chopin. I know how I looked at times:

the baggy pants, the bandanna, the toothpick. the code-switching

which made you more uncomfortable than my racially charged questions.

but I can be loud without being angry, just like everybody else.

can fail without being a reflection on all who share my shade,

at least in theory. don’t worry: at the time of this writing, I am not dead

or in prison. five diplomas and decades of my own students

say I turned out alright. feel free to take your share of the credit,

but understand your dreams weren’t in color and I didn’t need saving.




MEH is Matthew E. Henry, a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet. The author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020), his recent works are appearing or forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Baltimore Review, Bryant Literary Review, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, The Radical Teacher, The Revolution (Relaunch), Solstice, Spiritus, and Tahoma Literary Review. MEH is an educator who received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend money he didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education. His work can be found on