Our History is Our Present
Updated: Jul 18
I was about 12 years old when I learned that everything I needed to know about history might not be in a traditional school issued text book. My 6th grade teacher stood in the front of the classroom and made the statement “I am going to teach you about the countries of Africa, because you will have years of knowing about the states. This might be the only time you will learn this.” It was at that moment we put away our books and we learned from his own knowledge which deviated from the course syllabus. It was a moment that stuck with me throughout the decades.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if
faced with courage need, not to be lived again.”
By the time I was in High School, I realized that my textbooks were an inadequate source of information and did not contain the full American history. The full American history must include African American history which those books lacked. The stories were watered down and skipped over. I wanted to learn more about my heritage as well as the journey. To understand the current situation and social climate we must research yesterday. It just so happens that yesterday spans nearly 500 years. There is Black Lives Matter, The Civil Rights Movement, Reconstruction, Slavery, The Revolutionary War, and chattel slavery from Africa during the Middle Passage. Of course, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Harriett Tubman are important figures in our story. However, they are not the only figures that we have. Countless young people taught, tutored, marched, boycotted, attended sit ins, organized, spoke, recruited others for the cause of voting rights, discrimination, equal rights, education, and many other issues. We do not hear enough about the youth. If you look closely, the youth have been the driving force amongst most if not all uprisings, revolutions, and changes. "The Freedom Schools" by Jon N. Hale is a great source for researching student activism in Mississippi in 1964, also known as the Freedom Summer. There is not much difference between then and now. I actively peacefully protest in New York City in the latest uprising for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Elijah McClain against police brutality. The youth are there. The youth are speaking. The youth are marching. It is beautiful to see, to hear and to support. They must know that we care. They must know that we hear them. It is not just their fight. It is a collective responsibility. There are all ages, races, genders, and LGBTQ+ coming together for a cause. Human rights are worth the steps that we must take. Justice for all is worth the organizing.
“My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the
rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”
Technology has allowed research to be much easier. Yes, libraries and museums still exist and serve a wonderful purpose, but most of us have access to Google. The argument of “I didn’t learn this in school” is no longer relevant. It is an argument I see often on social media and during general conversation. We can implement the task of educating ourselves. Recently, I wrote an essay called “The RACE Talk” and had the opportunity to discuss it during the Artists4Justice marathon which debuted June 6th. It highlights the importance of having the pertinent conversations with our youth including racial disparities, systematic racisms and general unfiltered history of this country . It serves as a long-term solution for a 400+ year problem. Far too often these talks occur primarily in minority households. However, it should be a collective conversation regardless of race or social class. To have these much-needed chats, we must be first educated ourselves. Which for some, is the hardest part. Once we are educated, we are then charged with the responsibility to not only disseminate, but to change. Correcting the way think, speak, and act will drive us forward to understanding while creating a future where the racial entities that divide us will truly be our past. We must unlearn what we have been taught through some of our poor education, culture and generational curses.
“Education is for improving the lives of others and leaving you
community and world better than you found it.”
Marian Wright Edelman
So, where do we begin? I decided I would start with the now and work my way backward. I wanted to know more about the how and the why. What was the motivation of the forefathers for not abolishing slavery when they had the chance during the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783? Why did we have to wait until the end of the civil war in 1865, nearly a century later to be deemed as free? Here we are in 2020 dealing with the residual remnants of those very choices. There were many questions while the educating commenced. The deeper I went, the more I needed to know. As for your journey, what will work for you is up to you. Of course, if you have elders who remember the firsthand accounts for different events of history, start with them. Ask them questions. Inquire about their feelings. The March on Washington was only 57 years ago. The U.S. Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967 ruled that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional 53 years ago. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was 56 years ago. This was all barely a generation ago. If you are more of a visual learner, there are plenty of reputable documentaries and commentaries to watch on YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime to name a few. I tend to keep a notepad close by to catch the facts that I want to know more about for an even more in-depth research later. I love documentaries, but I am also an avid reader. Recently, I came across Thomas Jefferson’s only published book called “Notes on the State of Virginia.” I performed a general search and it came up in its entirety for free. The book was an interesting read to say the least. To see his views on Native Americans, African Americans, Africans, interracial relations, slavery, and white supremacy solidified my thoughts about his character as a man and politician. There is one thing to read about a historical figure’s life from another’s point of view and another to read those ideologies written by his own pen. This is what I mean by education. Go deeper. Go further. Stay true.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history,
origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Now, it is time to do the work. Not for a passing grade just to brain dump as time goes by, but for your own benefit and future. Retain it. Build on it. Share the knowledge acquired and encourage others to do the same. We are all in this together. The racist ideologies that this country was founded on are long overdue to be disbanded. They have never been an accurate depiction of who and what we are as people or culture. They have been debunked time and time again by the countless talented, professional, studious, creative, heroic, enlightened, educated, magical people of color that have graced this nation for centuries by bravery, strength, and actions. We were never put here to succeed, and yet we are... and yet we have. It is a difficult task to change hearts and minds. The damage that has been done can be undone, just as much as it cannot be ignored. It is time to learn. It is time to teach. It is time to move forward.