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Because of Them

Because of them, we are... Some crawled so others could walk. Others walked so we could run. We need to run so the next generation can soar. I am because of them… I am because they were. Because of the freedom riders, and all those who put their lives on the line then and still do now so we can freely be who we are. Because of those who stand in the gap and those who are bold enough to take a leap of faith, step into the light and share their stories. “Them” could be people in our communities whom we know or don’t know or people in our households.

Prior to 2016, I only read self-help books or books to do with communication and the human mind. I avoided books or movies about history because they were too sad. I dreaded history dating back to my highschool days. Stepping out of my reading comfort zone, I read Born A Crime by Trevor Noah sometime last Summer (2017) which is his personal story about growing up during Apartheid in South Africa. His mother a Black South African and his father a Swiss German in a time when an interracial couple was a crime. When listening to this book, I remember experiencing every emotion that possibly exists. But in the end, I’m a better person mentally and have a greater appreciation for the opportunities available to me because of people like him and his mother who dared to dream against the odds and then shared the story.

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It is commonly said, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” or “Ignorance is bliss.” Is ignorance really bliss?! Quote from Jeff Rich, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” I think education here does not necessarily have to be formal or based on a curriculum because everything cannot be taught/learned in a school system irrespective of achieving the highest degree possible. However; with education, both formal and informal, it opens doors for you. Education is a pathway to mental freedom. Take if from Dick Gregory, author of Defining Moments in Black History: Reading between the lies, “ignorance is not bliss, it is very costly.” Determine what your goal/purpose in life is and then decide what level of education will put you in the best possible position and higher advantage to soar.

I came across this book by Dick Gregory at beginning of this month (Black History Month). It is a book I wouldn’t have read if I was still in my “reading comfort zone.” Now that I dared to step out and read it, it is one I would recommend. However, be informed that it will either make you better or bitter. My prayer and hope is that it makes you better because bitterness devours it's host. I learned quite a lot about the period of slavery and how we got to where we are today. Most especially I learned detail information about how certain events unfolded. Learning this made me curious to want to know how much of that era is taught in schools here in the US as I did not attend high school here.

One major thing I got to understand from reading this book is another concept of racism which isn’t necessarily only about skin color, it is deeper than that. It is cultural and it is a mindset, a mindset in which some of us irrespective of skin color are still stuck in. Even though slavery was over hundreds of years ago, physical slavery may have ended but there is a lot of mental slavery still going on irrespective of what part of the spectrum we may identify with be it a descendant of a slave or slave owner. To a certain extent, superficially, it may appear to be about skin color, but best believe it is deeper than that. May we are open to learning and educate ourselves about the fundamentals of an individual irrespective of their skin color.

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Some events mentioned in this book which I was hearing about for the first time made the hair at the back of my neck to rise. They are;

  • Anthony Johnson (black) was the first legal slave owner in American history. He “owned” Johnson Casor (black) whom after serving his time with Anthony was employed by Robert Parker (white). Anthony Johnson sued Robert Parker and won. In 1655, the court ruled Anthony Johnson could “own” John Casor indefinitely.
  • John Brown, a “white” American with 21 of his followers organized a raid to overthrow the institution of slavery in 1859. He was executed by hanging as a result of that.
  • What truly made Rosa Parks not give-up her seat at the bus wasn’t just because she was tired physically and or emotionally. It was because of the death of Emmett Till. How he was killed and his mother decided to have an open casket funeral which sparked a lot of uproars.
  • Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman to seek the nomination for president of the United States (1972). The fact that she had the thought to seek nomination during that time with all that was going on as a double minority, that made me pause for a few seconds.
  • Talking about the origin of the raised clenched fist, it was during the Summer Olympics of 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos took a stand following the inequalities they faced; Harry Edwards lead the movement from then on.

In the media, black people tend to be portrayed as “ratchet” as seen in some reality TV shows. I don’t watch TV unless I go visit family or friends so I can’t tell what shows are currently going on but I sure do stay informed on what’s going on around the world as I receive news headlines via email. DeShuna Spencer, founder of Kweli TV was a guest on Sitmpod. She discussed why content via Kweli (which translates to truth) TV is curated to weed away “ratchetness” and violence. She believes that if we see a lot of good content as opposed to what is shown on mainstream media, then we won’t be stuck in a mentality that is holding us back. Check out the interview and learn more about Kweli TV.

Legacy House INC a dynamic group of individuals graced the Sitmpod some weeks ago to discuss who they are, what they have done and what they plan to do. Along the lines of what they plan to do or what’s in the works is the Of One Blood Project created by Jason Nkwain. The Of One Blood Project “critically examines the relationship between Africans and African Americans through the artistic disciplines of Film, Song, and Literature.” The storyline of this project ties into the book by Dick Gregory in that it examines how culture influences our mindset which also influences how we interact with each other even between Africans and African Americans.

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In the spirit of black history month, I’d like to highlight other books I’ve read by black authors; for those, I can remember off the top of my head. I remember reading two of Iyanla Vanzant’s books which I rented from a local library and can’t remember the titles. This was back in 2006-2008 during my community college days. I heard about them from watching her on the Oprah Talk Show. What I took away from those books is, challenges are not meant to break you but to build you. Nonetheless, it could break you before it builds you and when it breaks you, the person that emerges can’t be described in words. Another book is How To Get out of Your Own Way by Tyrese Gibson; for which the title speaks for itself. Next is Behold the dreamers by Imbolo Mbue a Cameroonian!!! (Insert excitement emoji because I am Cameroonian). The message I took away from this book is the journey to chasing “The American Dream” from the African experience versus the American experience and the consequences it has on the family unit and the individual. This book is a must read!

In this year’s winter Olympic, so far seven black athletes are making history. “Maame Biney, originally from Ghana, is the first black woman to make the Olympic speedskating team and the second-ever African-born athlete to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics.” (NBCNEWS, Feb 9, 2018). See article for the rest of the story.

Knowledge is power and it is freedom. Physical freedom is nothing if we are still mentally stuck and this does not only apply to a specific group of people on one end of the spectrum, it applies to all. May we develop a growth mindset and get unstuck from this fixed mentality that is holding us back. Remember we all will return to dust in the end.

About the Black Panther movie...   

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