Celebrating 400+ Years of Black Life in America
Family, of course, comes first. I may be one of the few, if not the only family member in my entire ‘humongous’ family who ten years before Roots aired, gobbled down every story my grandparents and father told. Paying homage to family, in 2005 I took those stories and wrote the most told version of our lineage (on my father’s side) in my first memoir ‘God Be the Glory.’
While I never (and still don’t) have an interest to research our roots, it was important the family have this popular story of our ancestors; ...our (paternal) great, great, great grandfather from which many of us inherited our surname, and our (maternal) great, great, great grandmother who either was born into slavery or brought to America from Africa a slave. It was important to share how both sides of the family migrated from the Carolinas... to Philadelphia around the same time... early 1900’s, and tell of their powerfully unique experiences. I simply adored the stories, perhaps what had me asking all of my grandmothers, and great grandmother questions about our family.
All that revealed, I celebrate the African, English (or British), Creole and Native American lineage said to be a part of my heritage. Like I wrote in God Be the Glory, “To cut out, or omit any part of our ancestry would be like trying to make pancakes without flour and then wondering why I kept coming up with scrambled eggs.” I am American, and extremely proud of my black heritage.
My hope however, has always been that I provided enough information in God Be the Glory to be of use to any family member interested in researching further.
I also celebrate MENTORS; a mix of family, dear friends, colleagues, co-workers, celeb personalities I personally admire, and historical movements I either read about or experienced.
Here’s a short story that aptly wraps up this celebratory post.
For the longest I was challenged to read African-American literature. After reading a book about young slaves (brother and sister), I vowed to never again read a story so awful. I didn’t see the good in reading about events I couldn’t undo, nor did I care to lounge in despair, but more importantly I didn’t want to believe misery and struggle was the largest part of black life. It wasn’t that I wanted to suppress or ignore what happened, and was still happening, but cut to the chase, ‘I got it. But, was that all to get?’
Fast-forward to today, I have read hundreds of books, many amazing, giving me stories I longed to read. The humility in Life Is So Good humbled me to the core. This sharecropper’s experiences were unlike any I ever read. When We Were Colored… A Country Called Nigeria… Extraordinary, Ordinary People…Brother, I'm Dying… The Autobiography of an ex-Colored Man…revealed powerful, beautiful writing; that being aside from the story told from refreshing perspectives. The Black Russian, and Mayor for Life while I’m at it, simply floored me. I don’t know how many years I’d been waiting to learn about a native black Southern American man becoming a black Russian and learning to speak French and Russian fluently, better than the natives. I also had been waiting on pins and needles for quite some time to read about a black American chemist who built the Nation’s Capital founding infrastructure.
Yes, there were struggles and hardships, and sometimes a very unpleasant horribleness in the story, but there also was redemption in the struggle. Kind of reminded me of Henry Box Brown, and a story I read about Harriet Tubman---A Woman Called Moses. I loved both stories because at least Henry got to his destination, and Moses (according to the story…and spoiler alert…) safely led each one of her passengers, not losing a one, safely to Canada.
The point is, all of us benefit from having a well-rounded perspective of black life. For instance, I happened to catch an episode of Cupcake Wars last week; the Hollywood Black Film Festival episode. Collard greens in cupcakes, Mississippi Mud-pies and chicken toppings turned up in some of the cupcakes competing for the win. I shook my head, awed that top talent would make this connection to black ‘film’ life.
Black life in America is complex, the reason we need stories of all contours; not to suppress, but to address an inclusive scope of heritage and culture.
Hello February. Celebrating Black History Month.