Brother and Sisters hear me when I say As a people, we must never allow ourselves to be defined by others. As a people, we must never allow ourselves to be dependent on the resolve of others who fight on our behalf, sometimes because they believe we can simply not achieve greatness on our own. As a people, we must stand up and demand that the time is now for society to remove any and all roadblocks that still exist in our paths and denounce those who inherently want us to fail. As a people, we must grow and nurture our communities. We must transform them from wastelands devoid of opportunities, where those of us who succeed run from, into an oasis filled with promise where not only would we not run, we would move toward. As a people, we must return to the days when we built upon the family, helping one another, being positive role models to our children, and creating foundations that will make each successive generation stronger. As a people, we must challenge our young to achieve. We must not coddle them, we must not provide them with excuses, we must not be satisfied with mediocrity, and we must not fear greatness. From the moment they take their first breath, we must instill within them that excellence is to be strived for, excellence is expected, excellence is the norm. As a people, we must insist that we honor our past and remember the sacrifices of those that came before us so that we can march forward toward excellence. As a people, we must realize that only when we look inward, only when we summon the courage to be great, will we ever indeed be free as a people.
I wake every morning, look in the mirror, and marvel at my beautiful black skin. My skin tells the world who I am. It announces that I am part of a unique group of people. Oppressed for centuries, our souls were never shackled, our spirits were never broke. The fire that burns within each of us was never extinguished. The sun shines upon this earth, giving all of us life, but it is my black skin that absorbs its energy and radiates with beauty. My skin is but one shade of a grand mosaic that is black; be it pecan, caramel, milk chocolate, or cacao, one thing is certain, they are all beautiful. Each day I look to the heavens and thank the Lord for my black skin because it declares openly to the world that I am special, I am strong, I am unique; I am black and I am beautiful.
Drug dealers, gang bangers, fatherless, welfare-dependent prisoners are some of the images that the media bombard us with. When faced with these images daily, many of us begin to accept them and have lower life expectations of ourselves. In essence, we are letting the stereotypes of others define who we are rather than defining ourselves. The positive images of African Americans is often that of athletes and hip hop stars, implying that there are limited roads to success within the African-American community. Protest against social injustice by African Americans stars is spun as unpatriotic and done by individuals who are fortunate that society has given them so much. Notice I said given, not earned, because, for many, the thought of the African American working hard and earning their position in society is a foreign concept. As Carter G. Woodson said, “to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”
1984 brought us the Cosby Show centered on the lives of the fictional Huxtables obstetrician Cliff his lawyer wife Claire, and their children Sondra, Denise, Vanessa and Rudy, and son Theo. The show was unique in that not only did it depict an upper-middle-class African American family, we had seen that before on shows such as The Jeffersons, but one that not one but two professionals headed the family. They were portrayed as merely a family residing in Brooklyn, not an African American family, merely a family. They were not the exception to the rule; instead, they were just another successful family. The Huxtables showed us that African Americans could be successful and be mothers and fathers who have children who attend college because it isn’t that what all kids do when they graduate high school. They were the embodiment of what all American families, white and black, strive to be.
2008 brought us Barack Obama, who, against all odds, became America’s first African American President. Something many of us believed we would never live to see. He was a highly educated man of color and a dedicated husband and father. While in office, some media outlets looked to marginalize his accomplishments, question his citizenship and disintegrate his character. Still, thanks to his magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, President Obama overcame media attempts to downplay or mischaracterize him. He represented himself with a class and dignity rarely seen by a politician and won respect and admiration not only from Americans but worldwide. His wife Michelle, a strong, educated, beautiful woman of color, so much so that the thought of her running for President today does not seem out of the realm of possibility, was also at times a victim of certain media outlets attempt to paint the Obama’s in a poor light. But like her husband, she too possessed a magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, which easily allowed her to deflect any negativity aimed at her. The Obama’s represented what is possible for all African Americans. No longer was it a fantasy to tell your child they could grow up to be President because it has been accomplished and accomplished with dignity and class.
2018 brought us the hugely success Marvel movie Black Panther. Movie theaters were packed with people of color, young and old, men and women, some who hadn’t been to a movie in years. They left the theater not only entertained by the film itself but with a pride of their culture. Wakanda, after all, was undeniably African. Its citizens are highly educated, and its women are depicted as strong and beautiful, its men strong and dedicated to family. Wakanda forever became a calling card of many because the imaged world of Wakanda represented a look at what African Americans could be. That we could fly above the clouds and achieve greatness.
One cannot quantify the impact the positive images of these fictional and non-fictional African Americans have had on the African American community. Still, it has no doubt allowed some of us to dream of possibilities to consider what we can accomplish regardless of our skin color. This begs the question of the responsibility of successful African Americans in giving back to their community. For many successful African Americans, success is often measured by moving out of their community into a predominantly white neighborhood. Leaving behind many of those they used to associate with in exchange for new friends who are predominantly white, rejecting much of the culture they were raised in to fit their new surroundings better. They reject African American businesses citing their supposed inferiority to that of businesses run by others. It as Carter G Woodson said, “Negro banks, as a rule, have failed because the people, taught that their own pioneers in business cannot function in this sphere,
Ironically, Harlem, one of the bastions of African American culture, has in recent years seen a renaissance not as the result of successful African Americans returning but to an influx of white people. Unfortunately, as this great community strengthens, African Americans are pushed out.
So is it truly the responsibility of the thriving African American too, as Lebron James said in his 2017 ESPY awards speech, “go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them.” In this writer’s opinion, the answer is an unequivocal yes. As each successive generation serves as positive role models and mentors, invests in the building of a prosperous and robust infrastructure that employs those in the community and affords the children of those adults the opportunity to attain a quality education, the foundation is put in place where success is not seen as the exception but the norm. The perception of the African American image within ourselves changes from one that is not worthy to one who is exceptional and has unlimited opportunities before them. As Fredrick Douglas said, “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”
The building of this thought process will not come easy as Carole Mosley-Braun so pointedly put it “Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face” and as Malcolm X once said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” The African American can not wait for others to “save” us, build up our communities, employ our men and women, educate our children, and, most importantly, pass down the history of our many accomplishments. The African American must act from within to achieve these goals. We must set the groundwork so that. Each succeeding generation grows up with the belief as the 1970’s slogan said Black is Beautiful. That they shout from the mountain tops what James Brown once sang, I’m black, and I’m proud. That they define themselves and not let others define them.
With Rev. Raphael Warnock’s election, the first African American Senator from Georgia, I am reminded that they once told us we were 3/5th of a person. That the hue of our skin and the texture of our hair made us inferior, that generations were born and raised under the crack of the whip only to die without ever seeing the sunrise of a free day. That they believed their chains could shackle our souls, the specter of burning crosses could break our spirit, the gushing of fire hoses could dampen our resolve, that they could not believe that through it all, the flame that burns deep within us could not be extinguished. A flame that lights the path to not only our past, reminding us who we are and all we have accomplished but to that of our future and all we still have to accomplish. Today we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who refused to be broken, who never believed they were 3/5th of a person, who were proud of the hue of their skin, and the texture of their hair. We stand here today with the knowledge that we are indeed Black, and we are indeed proud.
As I held him for the very first time, I looked into his eyes awash with emotions. My son! Was this true? Was I holding in my arms my son? I had dreamed of this moment for as long as I could remember, and I knew that nothing would ever be the same. My life, the choices I’d make were no longer for me. From this moment on, every decision I would make would be made with this beautiful young child I held in my arms in mind in mind, and I would have it no other way. I would go to war to protect this child; I would let no one or nothing hurt him physically, mentally, or spiritually. Despite my happiness, there was still a small part of me that wondered was it fair to bring him into this world. A world that will not look upon his beautiful bronze skin for the magnificence It represented. Instead, they will look at it as a threat. He will be a target, and each day he leaves the house, I will have to worry if he will return. He will have to work twice as hard to be considered an equal of those less talented than him. They will question him at every step. Was it fair to bring such innocence, such beauty into such an ugly world? Was it selfish on my part? Will I be able to protect my son? These are the thoughts that run through my mind in what should be a moment of unbridled joy. Sadly is the reality of being a black man in America
Good Morning America it’s us your sons and daughters of color, we know today will be no different than any day the last four hundred years, but we still like to believe maybe it will.
Since that day four hundred plus years ago when you came to our homeland and stole us, stripped us of our names, religion, and culture you have done everything in your power to deny us even the smallest sip from the tree of equality. To reject who and what we are to you.
Shackled us in chains, beat us, raped our women, separated our families, hunted us down and hung us from trees, in front of your burning crosses, denied us access to equal educational opportunity, intimidated us from having our voice heard at the voting booth created two separate and unequal justice systems to disproportionately incarcerate us.
You have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the indisputable fact that we are now and have always been an essential part of what makes this country great.
You reject the notion that we are just much a part of the fabric of America as you ever were.
We should be furious at you, yet we remain drawn to you. We should seek retribution, yet all we ask is that you see us, not the color of our skin, but us. That you treat as equals.
Why you may ask? After everything you have put you through? It’s because we still love you. After all you are our country. You may not know it, but you are. And as James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
One day hopefully our criticism will awaken your soul and when we wake up and tell you Good Morning, you will smile back and say Good Morning sons and daughters of America. I cannot express how sorry I am for how I have treated you. But know this, I am proud of the amazing resiliency you have shown and thank you for being a part of the soul of our country. America would never have reached the heights we have without you or your vast array of contributions.
It echoes in the wind.
It haunts the countryside.
It reverberates through the very soul of America.
It is the sound of a mother’s anguish.
Like a Hurricane, it begins across the Atlantic with a mother’s cries of sorrow when her son doesn’t return to the village. She looks longingly toward the coastline and realizes, like so many before, he has been taken by the white men in boats, and he would never be seen again.
It makes landfall in the American south with a mother screaming NO as the white men pull her son from her arms. As they leave with him, a tear runs down her cheek, and she realizes, like so many before, he would be sold to another plantation, and her son would never be seen again.
It sweeps across the purple mountain majesty with a mother’s sobbing as her son’s lifeless, unrecognizable body is pulled from the river. Her body trembles and she realizes, like so many before, he was in the wrong place on the wrong night, and the white men in the pickup truck took his life only for sport, and her son’s smile would never be seen again.
It rattles the amber waves of grain with a mother’s moaning as the jury of white men enters the court room and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, pronounce the defendant innocent. Her soul fills with disbelief, and she realizes, like so many before, any chance of justice for her murdered son would never be seen again.
It is heard from sea to shining sea with a mother’s grieving as the video of the white police officer calmly resting his knee on her son’s neck plays. She watches in horror as her son yells I can’t breathe and calls out for her, and as the life slowly drains from his body, she realizes, like so many before, the joy on her son’s face would never be seen again.
Listen to it, America.
Listen and do not turn a death ear to it.
Listen to 400 years of a mother’s anguish.