It happens every few months: Joshua T. Dickerson will log onto social media and see his most famous poem circulating, attributed to someone else.
The cycle struck again this week. A viral tweet claimed that the poem, “Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil,” was written by a Baltimore City Public Schools student.
Dickerson is a 38-year-old man from Atlanta.
And a very good-natured one, at that.
“My poem has been ‘written’ by a couple different people at this point,” he said. “Sometimes I address it, sometimes I don’t. But this time, it really caught fire.”
He said he understands why someone might think his poem was written by a Baltimore student. The experience described in the piece has played out here, he said, “without a shadow of a doubt.”
Dickerson said his poem, which he wrote in April 2014, has resonated with many people.
He was inspired to pen the piece after he saw a heartbreaking scene play out in an Atlanta school.
He watched a child approach his teacher to ask for a pencil. The teacher said they’d give the student a pencil, but only if he traded in one of his shoes as collateral.
“The child took off the shoe and he had a dirty sock on and it caused the other students in the class to laugh at him,” Dickerson said. “I wrote a story about what I imagined happened prior to that moment.”
Dickerson said that when people read his poem, they often focus on the last line and take away the message that it’s important to have sympathy for those living in poverty.
But he hopes readers also take the first 10 lines to heart.
“The main message,” he said, “is that you must continue to fight, regardless of circumstances.”
Here is the poem:
I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready,
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
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Cause I ain’t got no pencil