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Victim of domestic violence with her mother – Guyana


My Poetry Corner July 2018 features the spoken word poem, “Broken System,” by young Guyanese poet Renata Burnette. Residing in the capital, Georgetown, she is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Guyana, pursuing a degree in Communications.

Renata’s poetry calls attention to the daily struggles and issues of young Guyanese, especially those in their late teens and twenties. She gained national attention in August 2016 with her poem, “Dear Mr. President,” expressing her challenges in finding a job as an undergraduate.

In “Broken System,” published on Guyana’s Independence Day, May 26, 2018, the poet portrays a system that offers little to no protection to the country’s vulnerable youth.

We have 15-year-old girls being gang raped; boys being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just children running away from their homes because the ones that are supposed to be protecting them, they’re now physically and sexually abusing them… These children, they have no faith in us because we have failed them…

Renata observes that the justice system fails these abused children by either condemning them to the juvenile penitentiary or returning them to their abusers. Further on, she raises the issue of drug dealing and the difficulty of finding work, even for someone with higher education.

So how do we fix the system, the same system that’s putting away our young men for selling or smoking weed, but we’re yet to curb the increase of lung cancer disease that’s mainly caused by tobacco smoking, also known as cigarette smoking. So what do we do? We put a warning label on the pack and just hope that it stops… And even when I graduate from one of the highest institutions in the land, they cannot guarantee me a job…with or without this degree. And you want to know why our young people are out here selling weed. Food for thought. Stay woke. See, plugs make more money than teachers make on their government salaries.

Without a pause, Renata addresses sexual harassment. No subject is taboo for our young poet.

And if you’re a woman in today’s society then sexual harassment is something that you’re almost guaranteed. It’s like a rite of passage, so be careful. Don’t wear anything loose, don’t appear to be too revealing, because when the man across the street shouts for you, calling you every single thing except your name, you better look… But really and truly all our tongues burn to say is just stay away from me. But we’re too scared because our system is broken; it’s backwards…

The system also fails victims of domestic violence. The police, the poet notes, not only show up until after the attack, but there’s also no justice for the woman.

And even though she’s the victim, there would be no justice for he [the abuser] knows people in high positions. You know, that can make a police report disappear regardless of how he acts. Those kind-a people in authority that have a knack for sweeping every single thing under the mat…

Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, the young poet controls the rising and falling rhythm with expressive hands. Without a script. Giving voice to the voiceless.

On America’s Independence Day, I offer these closing words of insight from our young Guyanese spoken word poet (emphasis mine):

If history has proven anything, it’s that the truth would always survive and, if needs be, it would bleed through crooked lines.

You can watch Renata Burnette’s performance on YouTube. For my complete transcript of “Broken System” and to learn more about the poet, go to my Poetry Corner July 2018.

Victim of domestic violence with her mother, Guyana
In 2013, Natasha Houston’s husband killed their two children, slashed her arm and hand, then killed himself.
Photo Credit: WGVU News