“We call ourselves underground street reporters. We just tell it how we see it, nothing more nothing less.” – Ice Cube 

In 1989, journalist David Mills interviewed Ice Cube, a member of the Compton, California gangsta rap group, N.W.A. Ice Cube described N.W.A. as street reporters distributing information without it being reframed by the white media first.

He explained how experiencing violence made poetry and gangsta rap “underground street” journalism. The expressions became a means of reporting on the Black experience in America.

In other words, poetry is journalism. Poets are underground street reporters.

Malcolm X is quoted as having said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth.  They have the power to make the innocent guilty and make the guilty innocent, and that’s power.”

N.W.A. did not cipher their words through white media outlets.  Instead, they used original rap lyrics to report “how we see it” uncut.  

Like N.W.A., I use poetry to report on the Black experience in South Phoenix.  

For-sale sign at 16th Street and Baseline in South Phoenix. Photo by Maria Nancy Thomas.

The city calls it urban revitalization. The community calls it gentrification. I call it colonization. 

Photographer Maria Nancy Thomas started the project “I am South Phoenix.” Documenting and preserving South Phoenix lives and history in images and audio recordings: Community for our memories. Landmarks for our spaces. Voices of our families recorded and archived for our children.

For Sale signs grow like weeds around South Phoenix’s new gated communities. Raising property taxes to a rate people already here cannot afford to pay. 

People of color already here so long their roots date back to when that thick red line was drawn at Van Buren Street to keep Black and Brown families living segregated south of them.

Get involved

• Join community groups such that advocate for equality in South Phoenix: reframephx.org; masslibaz.org

• Attend art events that are inclusive of artists of color: Art d’Core Exhibition produced by the Artlink Artist Council.

• Support community gardens: tigermountainfoundation.org; spacesofopportunity.org

• Check out Arizona Black media: desertsoulmedia.org; phxsoul.com

• Support Black-owned businesses and spaces for activism, education and economic development like Grassrootz Bookstore, which will host a gathering for remembrance and art, including a reading by Rashaad Thomas: grassrootzbookstore.com

• Volunteer to serve on the village planning committee for South Phoenix and see agendas for upcoming actions here or email SouthMountainVPC@phoenix.gov

• Speak at village planning meetings: Meets the second Tuesday of the month. Citing social-distancing guidelines, Phoenix officials are still restricting access for residents to attend these public meetings in person. For questions about accessing meetings online or providing public comment: 602-261-8771 or elias.valencia@phoenix.gov.

Their gates perpetuate segregation, like borders between the United States and Mexico, fences between South Phoenix and the suburbs.

Jim Crow still has a hand in Phoenix urban planning. 

Jump Jim Crow. Jump.

A Crow is still attempting to erase our history. Changing our community’s name from South Phoenix to South Mountain so they can market it as safe for white millennials.

Phoenix history tells stories of how Black and Brown people were forced to live below Van Buren under the shadow of the mountain. Then their highways, railroads, light rail tracks, industrial parks, airplanes, over-policing and pollution continued to separate humans. People of color from white people.

First Street and Southern in South Phoenix. Photo by Maria Nancy Thomas.

Black and Brown faces of South Phoenix are being replaced by white faces. 

Why poetry? Why now? Ask us underground street reporters.

Phoenix Don’t Love Them

A sacred mountain dances 

with dawn on the horizon.

A yellow bus hollers 

red lights, awaiting  

trailer park children

living next to a metal

scrap flower garden. 

I cry my daughter’s 

dolls laughter recycles 

fire engine sing 

acid rain lapping 

our drinking water. 

The City murders

our babies

breath zip locked in 

a safe haven’s out-

house dumpster. Two 

16-year-old  boys 

soiled McDonald’s 

stomach, toilets cannot 

swallow guns.  Yesterday,

I cried a father’s 

16-year-old girl wearing

 my daughters’ faces 

found in a car

parked in mattress 

alley. A bedroom 

window misses a 

14-year-old girl’s esophagus 

wrapped in a bed 

time story’s shrapnel. 

The City pimp’s 

poverty porn 

to devils dying 

crows white. Pigeons 

lowers its pants 

to defecate mystic 

whispers tarring their veins.  

The City plays pick up 

sticks with our ancestors

and children’s bones.

I cried Madison’s 

12th Ave. nylon tents 

filled with outcasts 

Listen, to the corner 

crooning Sunday’s sermon  

on Wednesday, under loud 

helicopters and boogie monsters

shouting bullets into 

a mother’s son 

torso running.  

I cried 

Phoenix Don’t Love Them 

I cried

“Boy, come on. It’s time to come in.”

“¡M’ijo! ¡Ven Aquí!” 

Editor’s note: Our team at Arizona Luminaria believes that truly reimagining and rebuilding local journalism to be ethical, equitable and inclusive means listening, learning and building trust with communities that have been underrepresented or misrepresented by traditional media. We recognize that gatekeeping, injustice and inequalities in journalism have marginalized communities who want to know that their local news organizations see, hear and fairly and accurately represent their truth and their stories.

The pandemic has brought collective loss. It has also birthed collective energy from grassroots, civic and nonprofit organizations to work collaboratively to help our communities and democracy thrive again.

At Arizona Luminaria, we are working collaboratively with our communities to open doors to local journalism that serves and represents all Arizonans. In doing so, we are committed to partnering with people who want to offer new perspectives on how local journalism can build trust and light a path for Arizonans who want news that’s a resource for solutions, action, equality.

We want to hear your ideas on how Arizona Luminaria can better serve you and your communities: info@azluminaria.org

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Rashaad Thomas is a husband to Nancy, father of Jade and Naimah, and a U.S. Air Force veteran who resides in South Phoenix, Arizona. He is an award-winning poet and freelance writer. Find him on Twitter...