S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
“This is so that the next generation and children not yet born will know these things, and so they can rise up and tell their children.”
– Psalms 78:6
“I don’t know how my mother walked her troubles down, I don’t know how my father stood his ground. I don’t know how my people survived slavery. I do remember, that’s why I believe,” wrote one of my favorite lyricists, Lizz Wright.
Reflecting, I really don’t know how they did these things…but I do know why. They did it not so much for themselves but for generations unborn.
To understand this, we need do no more than imagine the foremothers tied in the bellies of slave ships who carried in their bodies the seeds of “free” future generations, or the forefathers chained beside them with coming generations ensconced in their loins.
During Black History Month while acknowledging the accomplishments of our ancestors it is also important to reflect beyond the celebrated personalities and their individual achievements—though they and their achievements are certainly worthy of celebration. We must push ourselves to grow a deeper, more universal understanding of their determination, their tenacity, their sacrifice, their survival; to expand our collective understanding of the metaphorical riches with which they endowed future generations.
We should take time to explore the intangible pearls formed from the irritants, the banes, the miseries of slavery and the diamonds forged under the pressures of reconstruction, the lynching years, the days of Jim Crow, the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, the day-to-day effort to survive and thrive in what has proven to be a hostile land even in the 21st Century while we, as Black Americans, continue the inter-generational struggle to build and then climb Langston Hughes’ “crystal stair”.
This wealth gifted by the ancestors to their progeny is a treasure unmeasured in dollars and cents but best quantified as a fortune, an investment in dark children living in a future they themselves could never know and possibly never imagine.
This is not some new age phenomenon or co-opted Western-European ideology. Many African philosophers and scholars concur, it is a notion of “moral consideration” based on prevalent African conceptions of what scholar Kevin Gary Behrens described as overtly established moral obligations to future generations—obligations that connect Black people to their past and their future in an inseparable and perpetual web of life. In other words, Black history “is” Black future—there is no point of demarcation.
Each succeeding generation stands in the middle connecting the past to the future. It is our responsibility as it was for those before us, to bridge the gap between the two, to take the pearls and diamonds we inherited and use them to help build a better tomorrow to further Black people to aid in their quest for the illusive crystal staircase.
Yes, we celebrate Black history to acknowledge the accomplishments of a people, to use it as a bridge to carry us over troubled waters to the future where another generation will use the diamonds and pearls added to their inheritance by this generation and use it to build another bridge for another generation—a continuum of progress.
Black history month should remind us our inheritance is about more than things of this world—the fancy houses, the big cars, the fame, or the fortune—things that are temporary and will eventually vanish away. It is what we do for generations unborn, how we manage and invest the intangible gifts from our ancestors to pay it forward, is what matters. We owe a sacred debt to the future, a debt we more fully understand when we embrace our history as our legacy and our legacy as our obligation to our progeny—there is no separation between the past and the future.
As another generation of Blacks in America continue the struggle for justice, remember we do not fight alone, we are buoyed by a legion of ancestors who equipped us for this journey.
As Wright wrote in the closing line of her song I used to open this opinion piece, “The power of the universe knows my name. Gave me a song to sing and sent me on my way. I raise my voice for justice. I believe.”
In celebration of Black History Month, of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.