RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A few weeks ago, we asked you to share with us what it is about America that you're most thankful for. And you did share. We received over a thousand responses, all very thoughtful, wholehearted, earnest. We gave your responses to our friend Kwame Alexander, who is a pro at stitching together community poems. And he is in the studio with me. Hi, Kwame. Happy Thanksgiving.
KWAME ALEXANDER: Hello, my friend. I'm excited to be here (laughter).
MARTIN: All right. So you had to sort through all these submissions. What stood out to you?
ALEXANDER: I mean, the number of people who talked about libraries.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, and how they give public opportunities to improve our lives. It was amazing. Jody L. O. of Duluth, Minn., wrote, I am grateful for libraries, those sacred places to share knowledge and creativity. Jeff Milo (ph) of Ferndale, Mich., he called them 21st-century community centers, where people can do so much to improve their lives, like meet with collaborators or learn a new skill.
MARTIN: I love it. I love that libraries are making a comeback.
ALEXANDER: People love them.
ALEXANDER: I mean, it was like the poets came out of the woodwork for this challenge, which really made it difficult to choose which lines from which poems to include because honestly, they all could stand on their own.
MARTIN: All right, so let's get a sense of that. And you've got one you're going to read from Rosemary Bogan (ph). Is that right?
ALEXANDER: Yes. She's from Helena, Ala. - because America is wide and vast, beautiful and messy, kind and harsh, limitless and barren, diverse and stuck, free and foiled, whole and broken, light and dark. I give thanks.
MARTIN: Wow. Rosemary, well done.
MARTIN: So we want to give a special shout-out to teachers because I mean, so many teachers wrote in with responses. And we even had some teachers who got their entire class to write gratitude poems, right?
ALEXANDER: Right, like Ms. Goerke of Louisville, Ky. Teachers rock.
MARTIN: Go, Ms. Goerke. So let's move on to the main event. You took all of these individual entries. And as you do, you made a beautiful, holistic thing - a beautiful poem from all of them. So we're going to read this together.
ALEXANDER: We are.
MARTIN: OK. Let's do this. And a reminder - these are your thoughts on what it is about America that you're most thankful for. All right. Let's read it. The sun rising behind farmhouses in the Midwest, the clear mountain rivers in Montana. I hope we have the wisdom to treasure all of it.
ALEXANDER: A glimmer of dawn, first flickers in Maine.
MARTIN: For the mountains - magnificent, weathered beacons of topographical wonder.
ALEXANDER: Tengo gracias that I can speak my mind y no hay consecuencias graves when I do so.
MARTIN: I won't lie. I struggled with this question. With all the fighting, hate and violence, it's been difficult to remember to be thankful. However, when I read stories of people who stand up and speak out for justice and truth, I become immensely grateful and proud of America.
ALEXANDER: Freedom to whisper against kings - my grandmother, who carried her green card in the broken tattoos on her back. I am thankful that other people are still trying to come here. I am thankful for the vastness of our borders and the beauty of our natural lands.
MARTIN: Sunshine streaming softly while we sip our morning coffee - but across the oceans, our troops fight, ensuring that we keep our rights to give us a land of the free - for the first responders, for hope.
ALEXANDER: I am thankful for America's history, warts and all, our past full of light and dark. Read the history of heroes and villains. See our country for what it is.
MARTIN: Free press and free speech to speak out against injustices in our country.
ALEXANDER: For family, for places to walk safely, places to paddle, arcades of trees, varied, inexpensive food, tools and workplaces, longtime friends who listen, tennis courts.
MARTIN: Indoor plumbing.
ALEXANDER: To worship whoever we want, to say whatever we want, to go wherever we want.
MARTIN: For the public libraries - they raise up voices whom others attempt to silence.
ALEXANDER: For diversity, for differences - my son is transgender, and I'm grateful for those who treat her with respect and kindness.
MARTIN: For Cape May, for parties on the Fourth of July, for anarchist coffee shops, for church-run thrift stores, hole-in-the-wall barbecue joints, Lake Michigan, Vinny's Pizzeria in the '90s, beer delivery in a snowstorm.
ALEXANDER: For second, third and fourth chances for forgiveness.
MARTIN: I am thankful that my hybrid existence, hinted by my brown skin and slanted eyes, can make sense in America.
ALEXANDER: For many spectacular parks in our nation - from the huge and awe-inspiring Grand Canyon to the tiny, neighborhood park with the small playground and the pretty benches painted by local artists.
MARTIN: I am grateful that America can change, too - for the millions who take to the streets, challenge authority, insist on change, demand justice, resist evil, tell their stories.
ALEXANDER: Wrought through division, sustained by freedom's hope, seeking reunion - I am thankful for America most of the time.
MARTIN: America lets me connect and play videos with the world. America allows me to play basketball. America gives me a good education.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, America, for the mom and pop shops and rest stops, for the back roads and the beaten paths, for the love that greets me when I come home, for the dream to become; the dream to make better or different, the dream to inspire, the dream of something on the other side of whatever is facing us in the moment - for you.
MARTIN: Wow. That was awesome.
ALEXANDER: It's pretty stunning, right?
MARTIN: It's pretty stunning.
ALEXANDER: We did it.
MARTIN: We did it. Everyone out there did it. Thank you so much to all of you for contributing to this poem. It was a broader community effort. And thanks, Kwame, for making it what it was. We appreciate you.
ALEXANDER: Hey, I don't know about you, Rachel, but I'm about to get stuffed.
MARTIN: Yeah, it's that time. Isn't it?
MARTIN: Kwame Alexander, New York Times best selling author of "Swing." It's a novel about baseball, jazz and social justice. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.
ALEXANDER: Same to you, Rachel.
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