Piri Thomas was born in 1928, in the El Barrio of Spanish Harlem. He was an accomplished poet, author, youth counselor, and speaker. The poet didn’t have an easy life and decided to change his name from Juan Pedro Thomas after living his entire young adulthood in prison.
In the PBS documentary, Every Child is Born a Poet, produced by Jonathon Robinson, the author takes viewers back down memory lane and gives some validity of what it meant to be poor and given a second chance in life. Thomas told a group of young men in prison within the first ten minutes of the film that it is important to know in life that, “You got to have faith,” to overcome obstacles.
The young poet was born to a Puerto Rican mother, and his father was Cuban, by way of Puerto Rico. When they arrived in New York City, both of his parents wanted to have a good life and protect their children. Needless to say, their lives were entranced with poverty. Thomas stated in the documentary that he remembered playing marbles with his friends and would look at the gutters that sat at the edges of the streets. The gutters were dangerous in his opinion and depicted a sense of disparity. In the 30s and 40s Piri Thomas believed that everyone was poor until he saw images of white people on television.
Every Child is Born a Poet, depicts the poet’s life in an artistic way that captivates the mind. There is one segment in the film where he talks about the love that he had for his father. Piri Thomas describes a moment when he stole something and had to learn a major lesson through discipline. He says the moral of the story was, “Don’t be taking what don’t belong to you.” The Puerto Rican author also acknowledged that he had an identity complex during his teenage years. The film does an exceptional job of visualizing an example of what he went through with his siblings and how they felt about their own race.
Piri Thomas had darker skin versus his brothers and sisters. One day he and his brother talked about the subject of race and the young poet proclaimed that he was a “Negro.” His younger brother stated that he was not black and would never accept that part of his heritage. Thomas became enraged and beat his brother up out of frustration. They never had another conversation about race—Piri Thomas accepted who his was and his color of skin. Poetically, Thomas speaks with authority, assurance, and clarity in the film about many issues and allows the viewer to be entranced in his greatness as a performer.