In his poem “I, Too,” Langston Hughes writes a scene of protest, in which he ― the “darker brother” of America ― is sent to eat in the kitchen, metaphorically speaking. But “tomorrow,” he says, he’ll stay seated at the table when company comes. “They’ll see how beautiful I am,” he writes, “And be ashamed.”
(Hughes, it should be noted, did not always protest so quietly. Five years before his death he wrote an all-caps poem that’s been hailed as one of his most innovative.)
The poem is an appropriate namesake for a new Hughes-centered endeavor: I, Too, Arts Collective, which is currently raising funds online. The organization, founded by Renee Watson, aims to be a haven for young people interested in art and literature, rooted in Harlem, where Hughes lived and wrote. The best part: the organization would be headquartered in Hughes’ former home, a now-vacant building in need of preservation.
“I see a need for young people to know about and understand the legacy they are a part of; the artists and activists who paved the way for them,” Watson wrote on Generosity, where you can donate to her endeavor. “I also believe artists need affordable spaces to create and share their work.”
She got the idea for the space after walking by Hughes’ former home several times, remarking to herself that it was a shame to see such a historically important space go unnoticed.
Watson aims to raise $150,000 to get the arts collective off its feet; so far she’s raised over $72,000. Today, author John Green has offered to match all donations up to $5,000, signaling just how significant this effort is to writers.
Novelists Alexander Chee and Celeste Ng joined the conversation, too, by tweeting under the hashtag #WeNeedThisSpace.
“It is still too easy for history to erase Langston Hughes,” Chee tweeted, but Watson’s campaign is on its way to making such an erasure impossible.