I Am – Somebody

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"I Am – Somebody" is a poem written in the 1950s by Reverend William Holmes Borders, Sr., senior pastor at Wheat Street Baptist Church and civil rights activist in Atlanta, GA.


The poem is often recited by Reverend Jesse Jackson. According to The Reader's Companion to American History, the poem was used as part of PUSH-Excel, a program designed to motivate black students.[1]

Jackson recited the free verse poem on Sesame Street in 1971, geared to fulfilling Sesame Street 's initial curriculum for serving under-privileged city children, as well as promoting cultural understanding. On Sesame Street, lines of "I am/Somebody" or "But I am/Somebody" were recited in a call and response fashion by Jackson and the children. During the segment children of all races were scattered all over the Sesame Street set, on the street, benches, fire escapes, and led by Jackson in the poem. This performance is included on the 2006 DVD release Sesame Street: Old School 1969–1974.

I Am – Somebody was also recited by Jackson, with the assembled crowd at Los Angeles Coliseum for the famous Wattstax concert in 1972.

It also appears in When We Were Kings, a 1996 documentary examining the historic 1974 Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which was still known as Zaire at that time). It was performed with band as part of a concert preceding the bout that was said to be the finest collection of African American entertainers ever assembled at that time.

The poem was published as part of a 1998 book called I Am Somebody! (ISBN 0-516-26133-9), which included biographies of notable figures, for kids aged 9–12.

Cultural references[edit]

About a month after Dr. Seuss died in 1991, Saturday Night Live paid tribute to the book Green Eggs and Ham, by having Jackson appear on the "Weekend Update" segment and recite it in the same oratative fashion he performs the poem.

The poem was recited in a somewhat different form in what sounds like a speech by Jackson sampled on the 1973 funk single "Same Beat" by The J.B.'s. The J.B.'s titled an album and track Damn Right I Am Somebody the following year.

The phrase has become so much of a calling card for Jackson that he yells it in a cameo in the movie Undercover Brother.

"I Am – Somebody" also inspired a similarly titled song on Carlos Santana's 2005 album, "All That I Am", which featured the American rapper will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas.

"I Am Somebody" is a song by the hip-hop group Jurassic 5 on the album Power In Numbers, which samples the poem numerous times.

A recording of I Am – Somebody is on the song "Can't Hold Us Back" on Paris Presents: Hard Truth Soldiers by Dead Prez, Kam, Paris and Public Enemy.

"I am Somebody" is a song by French artist DJ Mehdi and collaborators Chromeo.

In the movie House Party, Kid, Stab, Pee-Wee and Zilla are being released by police officers who apprehend them at a class reunion they inadvertently crash; however, they are ordered to say "I am somebody" before their release, much to the disgust of the guests.

Primal Scream sampled the Wattstax concert speech heavily for the track "Come Together" on their critically acclaimed 1991 album Screamadelica.


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